Business development · 15 December 2016

Three small businesses making a killing through Instagram marketing

Instagram marketing
Matchaeologist has only posted 350 times, but has a following of over 60,000 Instagram users

Social media is a marketing and sales platform that has grown in prominence in recent years. Previously something that was reserved more for communication and sharing with friends and family, nowadays brands have taken to it wholeheartedly and see it has a major channel for cultivating business.

Facebook has proven particularly adept at providing businesses with access to users, with recent predictions suggesting advertising revenue will hit $26bn in 2016. However, it’s a member of the Facebook family that has generated a lot of attention recently when it comes to brand building and marketing.

Instagram was first set up Kevin System and Mike Kreiger in 2010, and was bought by Facebook two years later for (a now comparatively small fee of) $1bn. In June it sailed through the 500m user mark, 100m of which were secured in the previous ten months.

One of the particularly interesting observations to make about Instagram in recent years has been the democratising way in which it allows smaller brands and businesses to build up a big follower count and then introduce them to new products and initiatives.

This has been taken one step further through Instagram’s recent #InstaGiftGuide – a festive initiative designed to shine a light on some of the most creative independent UK small businesses on Instagram.

To find out more, Business Advice spoke to the founders of three very different companies: craft beer subscription service HonestBrew, Matcha tea brand Matchaeologist and cake operation Georgia’s Cakes. While each operates in a different industry, there is a common trait shared – the visual nature of each business.

Instagram marketingAndrew Reeve, founder of HonestBrew, set up his company in 2014 and now has over 1,000 different beers from hundreds of breweries listed online. Delivering craft beer direct to customer’s doors, Reeve said Instagram marketing is a key tool for him because it enables his team to “bring the beer to life” – showcasing flavours within different beers and getting the story across.

While HonestBrew only has just under 9,000 followers on Instagram, Reeve has found it particularly effective to pick a theme to focus on for a week to bring about consistency and a story to the images. “We also have a lot of fun capturing our day-to-day experiences in the beer world,” he added.

Explaining why he got involved with #InstaGiftGuide in the first place, Reeve said: “It’s a great way to highlight independent brands and the unique things they are doing. We’re big fans of supporting independents and Instagram gives small businesses the chance to tell their story without needing big budgets.”

Georgia’s Cakes founder Georgia Green has built up a following of over 40,000, all keen to see which visual masterpiece her brand will be serving up next. Making the cakes with herself, while sister Louisa helps out with social media, Green is now at the juncture of deciding whether or not an extra person and more space is necessary.

Green described Instagram as being a “portfolio of my work”. If a customer arrives and doesn’t know what they want, the cake entrepreneur is able to direct them to her profile for inspiration. “Because of the way Louisa and I have used Instagram, uploading good quality photos and videos, it also reflects on the quality of the cakes themselves which is a very important aspect of the business,” she added.

When it comes to comparing Instagram marketing to other social media channels, Green said it works because of its purely visual nature – which is what her company relies on. Instagram Stories, which allows her to bundle up a number of posts or videos into a slideshow, allows Green to show followers who she is as a person and show off a bits of her lifestyle that wouldn’t normally happen on her Instagram page.

Reflecting on her use of the platform and its future application, Green believes more and more people are aware of, and attracted to, smaller businesses. When it’s a small business, she added, the products are usually handled with a lot more love and care, and it comes through to the customer – with #InstaGiftGuide a great way to expose these small businesses and showcase the great work from each.

Our final Instagram user is the founder of Matchaeologist, which was set up in 2015. His business, which works with expert tea sommeliers and farmers in Japan to bring premium-quality Matcha green tea to its growing customer base, has the most followers – with over 60,000.

“A big part of what we do is educating potential customers about our tea and how it can be used in different formats,” he explained explained. “We find Instagram a perfect platform to communicate our ideas visually as well as to reach out directly to potential customers and partners alike in a way that we cannot effectively do with other social media platforms.”

He prefers Instagram marketing to what can be done on other platforms because there is more “open space”, and it allows brands to engage with potential customers who are really in “discovery mode”. The entrepreneur also enjoys how it provides a way to create original and shared content, allowing Matchaeologist to clearly communicate the brand’s story to a target audience.

The recent #InstaGiftGuide has brought together smaller companies which have proved particularly adept at building up a following, creating a quality feed of imagery and used Instagram marketing to increase trade. “Initiatives like #InstaGiftGuide definitely creates more public awareness around shopping with small brands who do not necessarily have the biggest marketing budgets or the most extensive retail networks, but who are very passionate about what they do and are enthusiastic about sharing their skills and knowledge,” the Matchaeologist told us.

And that’s what it ultimately comes down to. Businesses which don’t have deep pockets or impressive networks can, with the right approach, go viral and achieve things larger competitors could only dream of.

Three pieces of advice from our Instagram marketing trailblazers:

Andrew Reeve: “We typically pick a theme to focus on for a week or so which helps bring consistency and a story to the images. We also have a lot of fun capturing our day-to-day experiences in the beer world.”

Georgia Green: “I put a lot of work, time and effort into my Instagram. I make sure I get things finished before sunset just so I can photograph in day light, edit the photos so they’re the same ‘whiteness’ and also purchase a few props to accessorise my photos with. If you can dedicate yourself to do that, it’s worth it. My page is consistent and well looked after, and I owe some of my success purely to that.”

Matchaeologist founder: “Engagement is key – we spend time engaging with our audience, replying to all their comments, responding to direct messages and interacting with influential accounts in our niche.”

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Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.