By Megan Salzano
In these unprecedented times, social distancing has become the “new norm.” In the U.S., and around the globe, we are spending more and more time apart from our friends and family. The distance has created—along with powerful feelings of isolation and, for some, panic and anxiety—an intense need to digitally interact.
As its name implies, social media has become one of the few ways people around the world get social—that includes where they get their news, speak to each other and even shop. As such, social media has become an even greater force to be reckoned with. Instagram is one of the top social platforms with 1 billion people using Instagram every month, according to a Hootsuite report—a global leader in social media management. That makes Instagram the second-ranked traditional social network in terms of active users behind Facebook. In addition, 63% of Instagram users log in at least once per day, and 42% check multiple times per day and will spend an average of 28 minutes per day on the platform in 2020.
When it comes to its usefulness for small businesses, the report stated that 200 million Instagram users visit at least one business profile daily. In addition, 81% of people use Instagram to help research products and services, and 11% of U.S. social media users shop on Instagram. That means one in 10 users are using the platform specifically to shop or find new products. In total, 130 million Instagram users tap on shopping posts every month.
But remember: these statistics were provided before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. hard. According to Later—a visual marketing platform, now with more than 2 million users globally—Instagram has seen a 40% increase in usage due to COVID-19.
“The use of social media has dramatically increased in recent days—and for obvious reasons,” Irene Williams, owner/principal, Msg2Mkt, told FCNews. “We’re turning to these platforms to stay connected and informed during social distancing. As a result, screen time has grown phenomenally; people are logging in and remaining on for hours and hours each day.”
Jenn Herman, a social media strategist, agreed that these isolating times have caused people to flock to social media—making it the perfect time for businesses to utilize the growth. “People are logging into social media more and more right now and Instagram is one of the top platforms people use, so views and visits are up,” she told FCNews. “Now is a great time to take advantage of that by being present and relevant on the platform. It’s important to keep top of mind, but in a helpful, kind and supportive way. It is not the time to be overly promotional with your products or services.”
Engage your audience
In the age of COVID-19, the Instagram marketing strategy is similar for those businesses who have already embraced social media and those who have remained in the proverbial “dark ages.” However, those businesses already Instagram-fluent will find it much easier to communicate to their audience during this time and will perhaps reap greater rewards.
“Businesses that already had a really well-established social presence have been at a great advantage during this unique time,” Williams noted. “They already have engaged followers and are trusted as a recognized ‘voice’ among the countless brands and companies just now attempting to chime in.”
Those new to Instagram, like all social media platforms, should consider providing an informational service rather than traditional services. During this time of increased digital digestion, even businesses already actively involved in Instagram marketing would find this strategy beneficial.
“It’s not a time to be overly promotional, but instead to focus on fun ways to connect with your audience,” Herman said. “Provide resources for your local area. Partner with other businesses to provide a list of resources or tools your customers can use. Share entertaining tidbits to lift the spirits of those online while being sensitive to the emotional toil many may be facing. You can also offer free tutorials via video—live or recorded. If your business is in the home renovation or repair industry, provide short videos with tips on how to clean unusual surfaces or how to refinish cabinets or how to turn your hardwood floors into a shuffle board table for the kids.”
While this fairly inexpensive strategy might not immediately help grow store sales, it will undoubtedly allow small businesses to gain a substantial digital following. That following will, in turn, be more inclined to shop the brands that stayed connected and helpful during the tough times.
Use the tools provided
In addition to its newsfeed, Instagram has continuously rolled out new tools aimed at helping businesses increase their brand awareness and grow overall. Those tools now include Stories, IG Live, IGTV and IG Shopping. While each tool gives small businesses a different approach to marketing their brand, all are positioned to provide owners the ability to reach potential new customers and build stronger relationships with existing ones.
However, it can be overwhelming to tackle the diverse strategies needed to successfully utilize all of the Instagram tools. Williams said she encourages business leaders to make the most of the core capabilities first and foremost: Instagram Stories and posts to the newsfeed.
According to Hootsuite, half a billion Instagram users view Instagram Stories every day. What’s more, 62% of people say they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Stories.
“Stories are excellent for in-the-moment updates, fun and fast image sharing—those kinds of things,” Williams said. “Posts that appear on the newsfeed are great for core messaging, branding—to share inspiration and info that have staying power.”
She added that posts and stories perform better if they include hashtags that are relevant to capture the attention of target audiences. “Use targeted hashtags that your actual customers care about and follow; it’s better to get 50 people who actually need what a business is providing than 500 people who’re just ‘scrolling by.’”
IG Live, IGTV and IG Shopping also have their place when it comes to Instagram marketing, but should be utilized by those already experienced with the platform. Myriad resources exist that focus on upping your game with these tools.
But when it comes to taking advantage of any of these features, Herman said the key is finding quality, fun and relevant content your audience is interested in. “Share short videos as tips or tricks for working from home, cleaning your home or doing home DIY projects,” she explained. “Share boomerang videos or stories with music to add context and make people laugh or dance. The more you can connect with people in a way that appeals to them right now, the better off your brand will be when things start to go back to business as usual.”