From the top · 7 December 2017

The Instagram economy: App claims to level playing field for small brands

Instagram expects to be responsible for 106,000 extra UK jobs within just five years
Instagram expects to be responsible for 106,000 extra UK jobs within just five years

As Instagram predicts UK firms will bank an annual £6.7bn through its app by 2022, Business Advice heads to the heart of the Instagram economy, or so-called “Insta-economy”, to hear from those leading the pack.

Chairing a hand-picked line-up of entrepreneurs for whom Instagram is central to their business, the social media platform’s head of community for EMEA, Ali Busacca, helped spark a discussion of how important the social giant believes the app has become to brand building.

Each founder talked about the role Instagram had played in establishing their business, generating sales and boosting brand engagement. In some cases, as Earl of East London co-founder Paul Firmin explained, the app’s direct messaging had begun to replace email as their primary customer contact point.

Also on the panel was Anthony Impey, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) skills policy board and another local entrepreneur. Impey told the audience that in a business environment where connectivity and agility are paramount, Instagram had become an important tool for growing brands. 

“Small business owners are capable of adapting to economic and political changes – and the pace of change will only get faster,” he added.

For doughnut maker Vicky Graham, who started using Instagram to showcase her homemade, American-style doughnuts after leaving her role at a food magazine in 2015, the very existence of her business owed to Instagram. Two years after its launch, 90 per cent of Vicky’s Donuts sales are made through the app, so it seems obvious that Instagram will continue to be an essential partner for the brand.

“It’s become our go-to platform,” Graham told us afterwards. “We rely on it to showcase the brand. We’ve already got a healthy following and it’s an immediate way to market everything we do. I can’t imagine not having it.”

A theme recurring throughout the discussion was brand integrity, and the dangers of compromising your image for maximum exposure. Ian Campbell Cole, founder of hand-crafted accessories brand Campbell Cole, explained how Instagram allowed for “authentic” story-telling, allowing a brand to keep close control of its output.

The entrepreneurs were also keen to downplay Instagram as a numbers game. “You can always tell when a profile has paid for its followers,” Graham added, warning it was as counterproductive to amass uninterested users as it was damaging to brand integrity.

The celebration of the Instagram economy was co-ordinated alongside a new report detailing the level of Instagram use by small UK companies, and some impressive projections on the platform’s future economic impact.

Small business owners since using Instagram UK Instagram users
55 per cent have increased sales 80 per cent follow a brand
45 per cent have hired staff due to growth in demand One in four discover and buy products through the app
62 per cent say business is stronger 60 per cent learn about products and services on the platform
Half say it has created deeper customer relationships 23m UK users overall

Overall, the tech firm claimed the gross value added (GVA) revenue from small UK businesses using Instagram reached £1.25bn in 2017. By 2022, it believes GVA will reach £6.78bn per year, as more entrepreneurs take advantage of the growing array of tools offered on the app’s business profiles.

Labour market impact could also be significant. Factoring in new supply chains, Instagram expects to be responsible for 106,000 extra jobs within just five years. It also claimed the platform will add almost a quarter onto the current retail and wholesale workforce by 2022, creating 16,000 new positions.

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Instagram founder

 

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Business Advice caught up with Busacca after the discussion to see how else Instagram helped young brands connect with chosen audiences. As the person tasked with shouting about Instagram’s role in building these connections, why does she believe the idea of an online community is so important in 2017?

“It is hugely important as a business to understand your audience and customers. Instagram is not just a place where you just follow your friends – you follow your passions and check in with the businesses you really love. It’s why we think insights on the business profile are so strong, because it gives you the opportunity to understand a bit more about the people you’re trying to reach.”

The readiness of users to interact with brands is a key distinction between Instagram and other social media platforms, and with 80 per cent of users following one, Instagram can connect businesses with markets in a way not tapped into by other platforms.

“It’s because they don’t necessarily feel like brands,” Busacca explained. “They feel like people you know. You champion their successes the same way you would your friends.

“On Instagram, it doesn’t matter if you are running a massive business, or you are two people around a table. All you need is a smartphone to start your business, and we love the fact the app levels the playing field. It gives everyone a chance to have a voice, and to run a business.”

Looking through the showroom displaying goods created by today’s entrepreneurs, it’s easy to see the natural partnership with a visual medium. But Busacca is sure every kind of business can build online relationships in the burgeoning Instagram economy.

“There’s truly a community for absolutely anything,” she explained. “One of my favourite discoveries is Instagram’s plumbing community, who are using Stories to showcase their renovation work and connect with other plumbers across the world.”

As Instagram continues to roll out new insights and tools for brand profiles, Busacca said its relationship with entrepreneurs would only get closer. “Small businesses are a key part of what makes the Instagram community so dynamic and so diverse. We will always continue to support them.”

The final word went to doughnut entrepreneur Graham, who cut through the complexities to offer new Instagrammers some simple hacks to get started. “If you make great stuff, it can be as easy as taking nice photographs of those things, writing clever captions and using a call to action that invites your audience to engage with you.”

Three essential takeaway tips from the Instagram entrepreneurs

  1. Engage with like-minded brands to build a community that benefits your own business
  2. Make full use of Business Tools, optimising your profile with links and seeing how your audience engages through analytics
  3. Encourage your following to create user generated content through hashtags, short campaigns and competitions

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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