Vox Pop: Will Instagram's Business Profiles save smaller businesses in the social media maze?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Instagram Business Profiles

Instagram has finally launched their new 'Business Profiles' allowing customers to connect with brands using a contact button on the app. The app will also provide users with a mobile analytics suite called 'Insights' which will store customer's data and store it in a way that is easily accessible.

The 'Promote' tool will let brands position top performing posts at the top of feeds, which the Facebook-owned firm has said will allow firms "to reach new customers on the go using Facebook's best in class targeting and measurement." The Drum Network members discuss: will Instagram's new tools really put smaller businesses out there ahead of their larger, corporate competitors?

Laura Jenkins, social media manager, Thinking Juice

Instagram presents a huge opportunity for small businesses – and that opportunity is only going to grow as the channel continues to adapt to the commercial needs of its business users. For me, there are two advantages of Instagram for a small business; the way you can produce content and the opportunities for relationships.

The platform is visual, and Instagram’s users demand authenticity. We’re wising up to celebrity sponsorships, and big brands posting the same old bland, branded content are finding that the engagement just isn’t there. As a small business you have a personality that most big businesses just don’t have – use Instagram as a shop window to let people into what you’re doing. Quirky office? Handmade products? Unique staff? Show it all off here. You can move faster than your big-business competitors, so if you see something you want to shout about, shoot it on your smart phone and get it out there.

Instagram also offers the opportunity to connect with your audience through micro-influencers – people with a following under 10,000 – which lets you reach out to highly relevant, engaged audiences in your niche. These relationships can be incredibly valuable and they don’t cost the earth – make the most of it

Phil Crampton, digital strategy director, Intermarketing

This new addition to Instagram certainly adds another layer of authority and professionalism for smaller businesses and allows them to target customers far more precisely using one of the consumer world’s favourite applications. We only have to look at the impact that advertising has had on Instagram over the course of the past eleven months since its inception, to realise just how important this could be for small businesses.

As the efforts will be combined seamlessly over both Facebook and Instagram, it allows more of a focus and channel specific approach, and one that will make it possible to gain the attention of even more of the target audience. This is an age where the newsfeed rules supreme; placement, content and audience are the key ingredients and with 300m monthly active users there’s an awful lot for smaller businesses to work with – they’ve just got to get it right.

Tara Thomson, account manager, That Lot

A Domino’s has just opened in my neighbourhood, two doors down from an independent stonebaked pizza place called Yard Sale - which I first sniffed out on Instagram. Yard Sale’s feed delivers a selection of fan regrams, sharable memes, staff selfies and lots and lots of pizza porn. Their IG game is as strong as their gorgonzola and is an honest, mouth-watering extension of their brand. Unlike international pizza chains (like Domino’s), they don’t write posts shamelessly aimed to drive engagement - “Double tap if you’re enjoying a slice or two in the #sunshine”, “In your face Monday. Double tap if you’re ordering tonight.” Yard Sale’s thumb-stopping content leaves you smiling and hitting dial – unlike the mass-produced, manufactured social fodder available from other retailers.

Vintage clothing retailer Rokit use their feed to post a mixture of well-curated old-school references, fun regrams of ‘mega babes’, get-the-look photos and street style shots. They hero Sid Vicious, Adam Ant and Dolly Parton as Instagram icons inspiring summer, festival, grunge, military, wedding and vintage redux looks for him and her. Their feed is the modern equivalent of a fashion and lifestyle mag – minus the ads and the attitude – with non-salesy posts that camouflage seamlessly right into your timeline next to your mate’s sausage legs and rainbow bagels. As they put it, follow for ‘vintage know-how and a lot of lols’. As Instagram rolls out its new business tools, complete with ‘contact buttons’, I’d encourage smaller, more creative brands to be given the chance to compete for space in our feeds because content will always be king.

Caroline Westgate, client services director, Cult LDN

Whilst Instagram Business Profiles offers a nice call for action by introducing the ‘connect’ button and creating features like ‘Promote’ for optimising content, it still doesn't offer the ability to schedule posts, meaning that smaller business who may only have one office here in the UK, but work across continents, still need to battle with time zones in order to ensure that content goes live at the optimum time for their customers. This may be down to Instagram wanting to retain the spontaneous nature of the platform, but whilst this latest update has been long awaited, it's still a long way behind the capabilities of Facebook which businesses, of any size, have now come to expect.

Doug Walker, digital marketing manager, AB…the ideas agency

As Instagram totters towards its sixth birthday later this year, the somewhat awkward transition from rising social media starlet to cash cow has already begun...

Suffering from a little déjà vu? Well, that’s probably because you can remember Facebook performing the same roll out and monetisation of their channel a few years ago. Whilst the insight tab and associated promotions have allowed for more targeted, segmented advertising for small businesses within the channel, it also means more advertising in general for everyone else. Facebook attracted some heavy criticism from users reporting too much advertising in their feeds, let’s hope Instagram has learned a lesson from its parent company, putting the concerns of the general public before those of its advertisers. Time will tell.

Emily Bray, account manager, JJ Marketing

Business Profiles is the announcement we’ve been waiting for. Instagram has listened to its business users and found that many of them would prefer to answer customer questions via email or phone rather than through comments. However, while the user feedback is imperative, the ‘connect’ button is by far the least exciting feature to come out of this announcement. Last year SMEs made up over 99 per cent of all UK businesses, despite this, their social marketing budget is unlikely to come close to that of their corporate competitors and this is where the mobile insights feature will prove most useful.

As the most influential marketing tool, it seemed an obvious route to begin offering access to information that will help businesses better understand their audience and it has done this by arming businesses with the tools to really evaluate their Instagram content. Like the connect button, ‘Promote’ doesn’t offer anything revolutionary but it does offer that all-important audience data and it is the data that might start working some way towards closing the gap between big corporates and SMEs on Instagram.

Léonie Sidgwick, assistant managing director, ifour

For me, despite all the flattering angled selfies, filters and carefully styled food shots, Instagram always feels like the most candid of social media channels. It’s certainly easy to get into as you needn’t be a wordsmith and, thanks to smartphones, taking a picture for content is no hassle. Instagram’s new business account will do away with the most annoying aspect for potential customers by streamlining contact and the addition of solid analytics means account owners can see what works and what doesn’t, something that’s been sorely missing up until this point. However, the limitations with Instagram up until now have forced small businesses to make the effort to engage with followers and make interesting and appealing content. I would really like to see the additional functionality enhance rather than stifle that creativity and customer service as this channel grows.

Anthony Dry, creative lead, Mando

I feel that any little pedestal for which a small business can help launch itself is a great leveller. We’ve seen so many smaller niche brands build itself a reputation from social platforms giving them a firm footing in the marketplace (think Herschel Supply Co). Dedication and quality can complete the rest. This move by Instagram is a welcome one that will allow people to discover new and fascinating goods.

Becky Mills, account executive, NMPi

Instagram has quickly become a platform for businesses, small and large to promote their brand through images and videos. So what does Instagram for Business offer and do the changes have small businesses in mind?

Firstly, the new connect feature allows businesses to choose a call, text, email or directions button. All useful add-ons for any business as they reduce the number of steps between the business and the customer. Next, the ability to ‘promote’ well-performing images as an advert will save time and simplify the advert building process. It is possible to apply audiences to ads, a similar feature to Facebook. Users can opt into Instagram’s algorithm which will show the ad at the most beneficial time determined by Instagram, or they can design their own ad schedule – which I personally prefer considering Instagram’s final feature. Finally, the Insights feature is designed not to overwhelm the user and provide only useful marketing information such as gender of followers and when followers are online – which if used effectively will help raise the profile of businesses on Instagram. In terms of the social media maze, I think the new features will simplify the ad creation process which will only help small businesses promote their brand and take control of their marketing strategy.

Petra Opelova, senior social media consultant, Immediate Future

Instagram is making great steps towards being more small business friendly.

However, in all honestly, the analytics element has been a long time coming, as Instagram had been behind other platforms in that aspect. Ultimately, we can’t forget we are still talking about Facebook’s platform which means bigger budget, bigger reach, bigger audiences. I would not be surprised if Instagram started minimising its organic reach even more dramatically than is has been so far after it attracts more businesses to join in – all in the name of preserving the content quality of consumers’ feeds.

At the end of the day, more businesses on the platform means more money for them in the long run. So my answer to the question of whether Instagram’s recent update will help small companies compete with the big boys with exponentially bigger budgets on a larger scale is: Probably not (except for the exceptional few). But it will help them create better, bigger and stronger communities around their profiles and move from the ‘audience they have’ to the ‘audience they want’ by having a very targeted and audience-centric approach in their paid activity. And of course, content creation supported by more comprehensive insights will resonate and be more relevant.

Tess Werling, account and Instagram manager, The Future Factory

For years, Instagram has levelled the playing field in social media for individuals, showing that content is king and always rates higher than sponsored ads. When done well, it can sell a business without the need for an expensive website or ad campaign. The major change for businesses has been shortening the customer journey from “see details in profile!” to actually being able to contact businesses directly, which the Business Profiles finally allows - who can be bothered to click through to a browser, really?!

Another great advantage added by the new Business Profiles is the Insights section. Before reserved for corporate companies, now even the smallest business can see their interaction and plan a successful campaign based on these insights. Although it’s standard (now) for corporate companies to also have an account, Instagram is run by close knit community of small businesses and individuals, and these are the people that will interact with each other. To be successful on Instagram you need to be intriguing, entertaining, inspiring and unique, something that corporate companies often miss and therefore I think the added Business Profile still serves the true and established Instagram users: small businesses.

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