When Will Instagram Wake Up To Business (Or Should It)?

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With apologies to my friends at Shopify, is Instagram the best place to sell stuff online?

Building a website is hard. Building a mobile app is harder. Making your business work across both screens is even more complex. It’s not just design and usability, but there’s technology involved. What should you build it on? WordPress? What about hosting it? Who does that best? Yes, there are easier solutions (SquareSpace, Wix, Shopify, etc…). Still, it’s not as simple and intuitive as others make it out to be. Plus, let’s agree that you managed to cross the chasm, how do you get consumers to your digital doorstep? How do you keep them coming back? Email offerings? Marketing automation? Maintaining a database? Again, all doable, fairly reasonable from a costing perspective these days, but not as easy as many make it out to be. 

Why not just build your business on Instagram?

Sure, there’s the whole “owned” versus “rented” land issue that a brand will have to reconcile. It’s a debate that continues to this day. I used to write about a “hub and spoke” model (build it on your own hub and market through other channels as your spokes). With that, things change rapidly in the digital media world, and we do find ourselves in a “hub and hub” model (build your own and build unique hubs on the platforms). For many brands these are untenable strategies (think about the resources of small/local business owners). The time, energy and effort is just too much. 

What’s a brand to do?

This phenom of building a business on Instagram is not new. Several years back, a group of burgeoning small business entrepreneurs in Kuwait started using Instagram to sell their wares. How? Isn’t Instagram a photo/video sharing platform? How are the transactions processed? How do consumers get service from the brand owners? The workarounds were abound. Customer service and communications was done via a WhatsApp account that was promoted in their Instagram header. Transactions were then handled using Square or PayPal. How much did this all cost? Instragram accounts are free… as are WhatsApp accounts, and the transactions are a small percentage of the sale. This is a low cost barrier to entry. Instagram is almost half a billion users strong, and the very nature of its experience enables brand to very powerfully merchandise their wares… and be interesting. Images, videos, collages… you get the idea.

Instagram is not an e-commerce platform (or is it)?

Today, Fast Company ran an article titled, Young Entrepreneurs Are Using Instagram To Bring E-Commerce To Gaza. It features the story of several young entrepreneurs in Gaza, who are using workarounds and MacGyver ingenuity to sell stuff. Gone is the worry of trying to figure out how to nurture and develop one’s own e-commerce experience, as social media can connect these vibrant entrepreneurs to local (and distant) markets. Don’t kid yourself, either. This is a real thing. It even has a name: Insta-Business.

Whatever works.

It’s hard not to admire the spirit of these young entrepreneurs. It’s harder not to realize that this could well be one of the best ways for brands of any size and stature to think about. Instead of spending months rolling out a new product or service, why not try it as a Insta-Business? It’s an opportunity to see what might happen to a business model, when it is put in front of half-a-billion people. Of course, you won’t be able to reach all of those people on Instagram, but they are there. Plus, think about the technical and business requirements required to do this. Imagine cutting those lag-times down to a fraction of the time. Products and services can, literally, be in market within a few hours. Brands talk about speed, disruption and innovation. Here’s a true way to truly bring that spirit to life.

I wonder how many brands will dive in?