Instagram, The Small Business Booster

I remember when I first downloaded Instagram at the time of its launch back in 2010. I didn’t really understand it, none of my friends or family had it, and I didn’t treat it like a social media site.. All I knew was that it had really awesome photo filters that made my photos look epic! Ask me what I think of Instagram today (four years later) and I’ll tell you something totally different. Instagram is now my social media platform of choice, I’m on it more than I’m on Facebook (in fact at one point, I didn’t even have Facebook) and I never use Instagram filters anymore (my favorite is VSCO). To boot, my jaw literally drops to the floor when someone tells me they don’t have an Instagram and the first response out of my mouth is, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?! Are you serious?” You’re probably wondering, “So what does that have to do with anything? How does that even relate to marketing communications?” Well, the point of my story was to illustrate how much Instagram has evolved from its inception to the important marketing communication tool it is today.

Speaking from personal experience, Iʻve witnessed first hand the power of Instagram. For example, when brazilian bikinis started to trend, I watched a tiny, little, Hawaii bikini shop – @sanlorenzobikinis – go from mom and pop to changing the entire bikini scene. Walk onto any beach in Hawaii… You’ll find that it’s easy to tell the residents from the tourists. Most, if not all, local girls can be found sporting an SL bikini. Theyʻve become so popular, in fact, you can even catch celebrities wearing them.

Image from

Image from

As a second example and personal experience, there’s a friend of mine’s shave ice (or you might call it a snow cone) truck. Using, absolutely no marketing avenues except Instagram, she and her husband were able to utilize the social media platform to get the word out about their new business. Featuring their patrons with their shave ice concoctions on their Instagram account, @originalbigislandshaveiceinc, was a hit and is continuously drawing in a crowd. In less than a year, the shave ice truck has become known as the best shave ice spot on the west side of Hawaiʻi Island.

From what Iʻve seen, Instagram has really done wonders as a marketing communication tool for small businesses. If Iʻm being honest, Iʻm not sure that Instagram would have the same effect on larger corporations (i.e., producing sales and helping businesses to expand). What do you think?

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8 Responses to Instagram, The Small Business Booster

  1. Ashley says:

    I already know what your reaction will be, but I don’t have an Instagram profile myself! From the outside looking in, it seems like Instagram can be used to boost any business, although maybe the most change can be seen/measured in smaller companies because they are in the process of establishing themselves. Because Instragram is mostly a visual platform, I think it works best for companies that have products/services that can play to that strength.

    Apart from showcasing highly photo-friendly products such as food, fashion, and arts and crafts, companies can also use Instagram to give their followers certain benefits, like behind-the-scenes looks at services. Giving viewers an inside look into the company might help customers feel more connected to their favorite brands. Taking photos of internal organization events, like holiday celebrations and potluck lunches, might also help customers feel more attuned to the company and its team of employees. Businesses can boost followers and gain brand identity and name recognition this way.

    Social media platforms are especially vital to small businesses that may not yet have the financial means to use traditional media outlets for advertising. I still think, though, that platforms like Instagram can be of value to large companies in terms of strengthening the consumer-brand relationship.

  2. Chanel says:

    Gah I’m such an instagram hater! Not to repeat myself once again but I just really strongly dislike what instagram has done to the industry of photography…just because you use a filter, does NOT make you an artist >:( lol. Jillian, you know my rant, just need to state it again! Despite this apparent dislike, I do recognize the popularity and potential it truly has. While smaller business might have more freedom with the platform, large organizations have the manpower to make it happen. I think it was Melissa who pointed out Burberry’s instagram account at one point and they do a FANTASTIC job at gaining and retaining followers and posting interesting content both in everyday life and in fashion. It just depends in how they are posting, what they are posting, and keeping in mind what people use instagram for. I thought Vaynerchuk did a pretty good job of describing this and Burberry is someone this grandma needs to start actually following stat haha.

  3. Danielle says:

    I felt the same way about Instagram when I first started my account in 2011. I did not see the use in the platform other than making unfiltered pictures look really cool–which had me sold on the spot. I did not take a moment to sit back and see the potential capability of the site. Fast-forward to 2014, the site’s relevance has catapulted it to be a major marketing component in small to large scale campaigns. Personally, I have seen a small boutique that I follow grow to 1.2M followers in one year. On a large advertising scale, companies are using the platform to emulate their larger marketing campaigns. RadioShack for example, uses the site to display its latest fan D.I.T. projects. I think that is a great way to incorporate and validate their large scale campaign.

  4. Anamaria says:

    Hi Jillian,

    I do have an Instagram account and I like viewing on Instagram, but I agree with Chanel. I think people overshare and over estimate their talent for photography — this is my kid eating cereal, this is my kid sleeping, this is my kid pooping. Geez. Enough with the paparazzi act. They’re cute, we get it. Buy a baby book and stop sharing every mommy moment with everyone you know. By the way, when your kid turns into a pre-teen like mine, you’ll soon learn that you’ve broadcasted countless images of them that can be used against them by bullies, or by identity thieves. Not smart, mamma bear. I predict you’ll hear much more about this in the future… back to the topic at hand.

    That said, I do think that Instagram is an important business tool. Images can give a brand personalty and a means to connect with its customers. I do think there is a place for Instagram in big business, but the trick is for big businesses to think small. Think community building. If they think local and post local, I think they can reap some of the same benefits that small businesses have captured.

  5. Kara says:

    Hi Jillian!
    I think it is undeniable that Instagram has transformed itself into this massive media platform. It has paved the way for many small businesses (and large) and also has allowed people to make brands out of themselves! I truly didn’t understand the impact of this until I started becoming friends with girls who have over 1 million followers on Instagam. They get paid a ridiculous amount (sometimes 1200 a day) for ONE post, because they have such a large following. These girls advertise themselves as a company, and believe it or not, it works! They get hundreds of thousands of likes for products they endorse. Instagram holds the ability to elevate and expose a business overnight, literally!

  6. Xi Kang says:

    Hi Jillian,

    I agree that Instagram is very powerful, sometimes it is even more powerful than traditional media. It is not only an influential platform to promote a brand, but also certain individuals. For instance, Julie Sariñana is a fashion blogger and she has more than 1.7 million followers. From this statistic we can imagine how many impressions she can get from her daily post. I think the reason why Instagram is so popular is that the audiences are no longer passive to receive the information. Instead, they can get involved by taking and sharing photos. Therefore, it is an ideal platform to launch some social media campaigns.

    Xi Kang

  7. Graham says:

    Terrific post! You’re absolutely right about Instagram and I had some similar experiences. In one instance I went to a small boutique fashion store in Studio City. I went in to kill time but I found the most amazing vintage purple silk shoes that blew my mind. I had to have them, so I got them. When I completed the purchase the girl behind the counter (the owner) asked if she could share a pic of me with the shoes on Instagram. I said “yes” because I wasn’t sure it would do her much good but it was a free way to support a local business so I thought it a good thing. To my surprise it got a lot of attention, now I believe in instagram a lot but I still find the app to cumbersome to use regularly. Maybe I’m more of a snapchat guy, ha ha. Your points about small businesses are true – I think that Instagram offers them a lot of value. For larger businesses I’m not sure. I think it’s about the type of content we want, right? I like events: concerts, festivals, stand-up etc and LiveNation may be a massive organization but I’m sure they can lend some content that may still capture my attention. As Vaynerchuk mentioned, it may be important to understand why we are on the social media site we use. If that is well understood maybe it won’t matter if it’s a small or large business as long as the user experience is good.

  8. Avril says:

    Hi Jillian,

    It’s interesting that you highlighted how Instagram is especially helpful for nonprofits. The organization I work for is a leadership development institution, which means that a lot of my job is to generate community engagement via social media. I find that the limit to mobile access is a challenge, but I’m seriously considering including more candid seminar photos, community activity, and motivational messages to engage our college audience for the Career Preparation Program. Thank you for this inspiration!