As the internet’s most popular image sharing site, Instagram captures the attention of casual users and businesses alike. Social networkers love using Instagram to share images from their everyday life with their friends while companies recognize the photo sharing site as a content marketing tool.
While these uses are well established, utilizing Instagram for selling items is a fairly new trend. Here is a discussion of Instagram’s development as a business tool and its emergence as a direct sales medium.
Upon its introduction, Instagram was intended to serve as sleek new image sharing application. With its follower structure and popular filters, Instagram allows users to share pictures with their friends and to discover new content. This concept was an immediate success as people integrated Instagram with their Twitter and Facebook accounts and adopted it as a major social network.
Following its purchase by Facebook, videos became sharable on Instagram and took content sharing a step further. Rather than having to turn to a separate app to share videos, still images and video content were now integrated in one place. Having taken casual social sharing to new heights, the possibility of utilizing Instagram for business purposes was the next step in development.
Advertising was Instagram’s first business purpose. Companies began including Instagram in their content marketing campaigns as it was a valuable tool for displaying products and sharing engaging images.
Initially, this was a system that was not monetized as businesses posted their content in the same fashion a casual user would share their own. This meant that users would need to follow a particular business’ account in order to view its content.
This all changed when Instagram introduced sponsored posts in early November. These sponsored posts would appear in the Instagram feeds of users whether or not they followed the company featured in the post.
The first sponsored photo of this nature was from Michael Kors and it received a less than positive critical reception. Despite negative feedback from users who felt they lacked control over what showed up on their account, the ad was a huge success. The Instagram ad landed Michael Kors 34,000 new followers, a statistic that represents more than 16 times the average impact of Michael Kors’ non-sponsored posts.
Since the launch of the first ad, many businesses have jumped on board and expanded their budgets to include advertisements on Instagram. And while users of the network might not be thrilled, Instagram ads still maintain the true editorial nature of the platform.
Rather than simply limited to advertising, Instagram’s business functions evolved into a more direct application. Users weren’t just posting pictures of their clothes and items for admiration or advertising purposes: they were doing so with the intent to sell. Known as Instagram shops, people started leveraging their Instagram accounts as showrooms for selling their wares.
All of the sudden, used clothing, hand crafted goods and a variety of other items started popping up on Instagram feeds. Instagram users are no longer simply members of a social network. They are now potential customers who are virtually window-shopping whether they know it or not.
Some Instagram shops are even creating bidding wars between interested users that operate in a similar fashion to an Ebay auction. Once a winner is declared, payment is arranged via email and the transaction is completed through PayPal.
Selling Items on Instagram also has a promotional element as hashtags have become tools for categorizing sales oriented posts. Posts featuring items for sale utilize hashtags such as “#igshop” and “igsale”. Users of the platform post everything from clothes and shoes to mustang parts and cleaning services.
By searching these hashtags users can access all of the posts that represent an item for sale. This creates another parallel to eBay as the hashtagged posts can be thought of as product listings.
The epitome of Instagram selling is the introduction of a website called Hashbag. Hashbag serves as a means for interested Instagram sellers and buyers to come together and do business. Rather than navigating the murky waters of conducting business via email or messaging applications, Instagram shops now have a home on the web.
By becoming a member of Hashbag and utilizing the hashtag “#forsale,” individuals can post their items for potential customers to find. The site serves as a search engine for customers to easily discover items for sale.
The introduction of Instagram ads and the development of Instagram shops has led to some debate over the network’s true identity. While some users argue that it is still a photo-sharing app by definition, others recognize its ever-evolving functionality. Regardless of which party you belong to, it seems that this popular media sharing site has entered a grey area between business application and social medium.Google+