Small business owners need to engage with Instagram to unlock the power and growth this social media platform offers to their businesses. Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Santresa L. Glass, a social media and small business expert, about how to use Instagram in profitable ways in small business. Her doctoral research and dissertation investigated the power of using social media, including Instagram, in small business to promote growth, sustainability, and success.
What are some of the ways in which small business owners can use Instagram to grow their small businesses?
There are several things small business owners can do in using Instagram to grow their business:
FREE! – Instagram is free. Why are small business owners NOT using it!? Some people lack the knowledge of how to use Instagram, others feel Instagram would not be beneficial to their small business (and that’s alright), and some people are just lazy in pursuing absolutely free means of marketing for their small business.
Capitalize on the power of a hashtag – I implore business professionals, specifically those in the food, hospitality, and beverage industries, to USE HASHTAGS! Jason Miles wrote, “A hashtag is represented by the “#” preceding a word or several words without spaces in between them. It allows simple categorization to be applied to an image.” This means small business owners can create brief or extensive, funny or serious, colloquial or formal hashtags for their brand. Magnolia’s Sweet Haven, for example, uses the following hashtags that I’ve created:
Unlocking the full potential of hashtags helps with gaining new followers and reaching a larger demographic.
Visual platform advantage – Instagram offers small business owners more than a filtered or non-filtered portfolio of photographs. A great photograph accompanied by a catchy caption or, as I often use, mouthwatering descriptions draw potential followers to the Instagram (IG) business or brand page feed. Instagram provides an immediate virtual portfolio for future clients and current patrons to peruse.
Linking back to website/blog – When people post pictures, they often use the location feature per post to link back to their website or associated blog post.
@ing other business pages in bio link – I do have more than one Instagram profile and I often “@” each of them from my personal page. Most people DO read the brief bios that small business owners are able to provide at the top of their IG profiles. I maximize on both my personal and business Instagram pages by #GoalDigger @magnoliasweethaven and #GoGiver @cheesecakeforthecure in the bio section.
Connecting with other industry professionals – I cannot stress how many awesome industry professionals and hobbyist I’ve met on both my personal and professional Instagram pages. Individuals who I would have never potentially connected with had it not been for their pictures or hashtags drawing me in.
What has been the impact of your use of Instagram on your small business?
Using Instagram for Magnolia’s Sweet Haven, LLC has proven beneficial, specifically “the power of the hashtag.” The visual commerce does help in selling mini cheesecakes, chocolate covered strawberries, boozy berries, wine-infused and traditional cupcake flavors as well as marketing dessert tables for special events like bridal showers and weddings.
Are there any potential pitfalls small business owners should watch out for when using Instagram? If so, what are they and how can they be avoided or mitigated?
One of the disadvantages of small businesses using Instagram is operating their business page as a private account. Not only can this be off-putting to potential clients, but it could also hinder the development of the small business brand. On the one hand, an immediate rebuttal would be that depending on the number of followers and IG posts shown on the business page, people should “request to follow” such an exclusive account. On the other hand, most people want to see the immediate loading of photographs, especially if the business page had a food or dessert-specific, catchy name of curiosity. Private business pages are missing out on unlocking the full potential of the hashtags they are using if the general public isn’t able to view them when they use the “search” feature on Instagram.
Is there any empirical research available pertaining to Instagram use in small business? If so, share what the professional literature has said about this area of research?
Yes! There is a wonderful book by Jason G. Miles that discusses using the power of Instagram to your advantage. Also, I’ve always enjoyed this infographic from Social Times about the power of the hashtag.
What are some of the critical gaps in the professional literature pertaining to Instagram use in small business?
There are few dissertations of reference that address Instagram as well as the use of social media in small business. There are also numerous industry professionals who have proven to be successful as social media marketers and social media consultants.
STAY CONNECTED TO DR. GLASS…
Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison