Where Trends Are Born: Instagram As A Sales Platform7 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
In June 2018, Instagram hit 1 billion active users, and counting. To put that in perspective, roughly 15% of the earths’ 6.5 billion people are on instagram right now. It’s easy to forget that the popular platform is less than a decade old.
Unlike Facebook (which now owns Instagram’s parent company), which thrives on sharing, Instagram has always been about influential content. If one has a good product and can showcase it well as a photo, their chances of being discovered are massively high.
On that note, we have one more unlikely contender when it comes to marketing platforms, and that is Pinterest. On Pinterest, trends are quite literally born every single day. What Pinterest lets content creators do is it allows them to publish content on their own blog (unlike other social media platforms that ‘own’ the content published on them), and then Pin it to relevant boards on Pinterest for better discovery. Moreover, with changes made to the algorithm in 2018, Pinterest can now intuitively show products based on every user’s pinning and searching history.
In other words, if you search most often for a certain kind of apparel, you are likely to see more options of a similar kind on Pinterest or Instagram’s search page.
Why is this important for retailers? Because crowdsourced trends are finally getting the visibility they deserve! From being the sole domain of designers, fashion has now been democratized. It is not uncommon for people to discover a new clothing trend on one of these platforms and then scout for ways to buy it. Brands that seamlessly connect the social platform and the sales channel have a very high chance of converting customers almost immediately.
Staying Relevant On Instagram And Pinterest
For many brands lured by the appeal of this level of exposure, the first challenge is often to know just what to say. On Instagram, almost no one is expected to interact with a brand. In part, this can be attributed to the rise of the Instagram Influencer. For an influencer, the biggest dealmaker is authenticity. And authenticity and the brand narrative are rarely ever the same in a customer’s mind.
Instead, not so surprisingly, brands that succeed on Instagram are those that manage to get cheeky, use memes or converse in a language that their millennial audience understands. If that seems like the domain of smaller labels, look no further than Gucci. ASMR videos are all the rage on Instagram right now.
What’s better than simply showcasing their new sneaker line? Creating an ASMR video of the sneaker stomping through some very therapeutic-looking balls, of course.
The thing that sets Gucci’s Instagram presence apart is that it does not quite forget its high-fashion roots. It just goes on, instead, to boldly redefine what high-fashion means in the context of today’s buyers.
In the accessories department, we cannot help but love Tiffany&Co’s Instagram account @Tiffanyandco . For one, it is all about, and only about the jewelry. This has always been Tiffany’s USP. It is always about the product.
Another brand worth mentioning here is @Glossier. Founded in 2010, it has acquired cult status almost overnight. With over 2.3 million followers, it gives other beauty brands a run for their money. As a Direct To Consumer label, Glossier is all about crowdsourced content and their Instagram page is a buzzing beehive of fan activity.
Speaking of Pinterest, visuals speak louder than words here. It is all about using the right tags and making the most of Pinterest’s visual search (personalized search) feature. Brands on Pinterest experience very high conversion rates with very little investment because the nature of the platform encourages repeat purchases.
Selling On, And Through Instagram
The biggest breakthrough on Instagram as a sales platform has come in the form of the Instagram Shop. Earlier, only content creators with at least 10,000 features could add a link, and even then only to their stories. Today, anyone with a business account can upload images, tag products and link them back to their web store.
This is significant because many buyers on Instagram are already exploring products with the intent to purchase and all they need is a little extra push. Also, Instagram has succeeded where Facebook failed. On Facebook, there is too much noise for products alone to stand out but by being a visual only, non-sharing based platform, Instagram almost eliminates that noise.
Significantly, over 80% of Instagram’s active users already follow a business account. It only takes a gentle nudge like the Instagram shop to convert them. Currently, the feature is available in the US, UK and a few other countries and is set to roll out to the others very soon.
As for showcasing products on an Instagram shop, it is all in the aesthetics. The more creative the shoppable post, the better the chances are of conversion. Nordstrom’s Instagram shop is a great example of what is possible when brands invest time in their creatives. Several of their products are showcased in action, which instantly becomes an aspirational goal for buyers, and this leads to more conversions.
Other brands like Madewell know that the most powerful sales avenue is word of mouth conversion. They take pictures shared by their customers and tag them as shoppable posts instead. A buyer subconsciously knows that this product comes peer-approved already, and is thus even more likely to buy.
No section on Instagram selling would be complete without discussing the subtleties of where Pinterest failed and Instagram succeeded when it comes to conversions. Much like sponsored ads on other platforms, Pinterest tried to monetize the platform by trying to insert sponsored posts within the actual feed. Because of its inherent features that space out the posts (as opposed to ordering them one after the other), it led to tons of usability issues and the Platform eventually rolled back the feature.
Meanwhile, Instagram was working to better its shopping capabilities. At a time when people didn’t really need to be led to a sales channel to buy, why not turn social media itself into the sales channel? In that sense, there’s an opportunity that Pinterest lost, simply because it was focusing on replicating another platform’s successful model.
That said, many people still use Pinterest for discovery, even if they then move to other platforms for the actual sale. How the platform and its sellers work together to bridge this gap is yet to be seen.
Measuring Sales Success On Social Media
As retailers expand and experiment with more and more channels, one aspect that still isn’t fully addressed is the reporting.
What we need now is a powerful tool that can study sales trends across all of these platforms, collate this data with marketing spend and help retailers identify the best channel for their specific use case.
As for Instagram specifically, having a business account is mandatory to have an Instagram shop and the platform’s own analytics help to a good extent. Not only can retailers see which products receive the most views and conversions, they can also evaluate the tags that are working best for them. The platform also offers huge scope for experimenting with content because people on Instagram expect to see something new and offbeat, and to discover something they didn’t know before.
The Future Of Social Media Shopping
Instagram is now the hottest online shopping destination. Pinterest, earlier this year, launched a shopping feature which is not as evident but does the job well.
What does this mean for traditional sales platforms? If the past is anything to go by, such concerns were also raised about online shopping and how it would destroy offline stores. However, what we’re discovering is that as new channels come into the mix, they simply begin catering to a more heterogeneous audience mix.
For example, a Gen Xer might still continue to buy from the marketplaces and stores they are used to. A millennial or a Gen Zer is more likely to head to Instagram instead. What these channels achieve, then, is diversity in their buyer mix which can ultimately only lead to more sales.