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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

LI companies hoping new ‘Shopping on Instagram’ feature yields direct sales

Carolina Paulino, left, and Maria Vizzi, co-founders of

Carolina Paulino, left, and Maria Vizzi, co-founders of East Marion-based The North Fork Box, seen here on April 18. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Since its inception in 2010, Instagram has burgeoned into more than just a photo-sharing site.

For entrepreneurs Maria Vizzi and Carolina Paulino, co-founders of The North Fork Box in East Marion, it has helped to drive traffic to their website. Now they’re hoping it will lead to more direct sales for their subscription-box company, thanks to the launch of Shopping on Instagram last year. The new feature allows businesses to tag products in their posts so that consumers can shop directly from the app by clicking on a “shop now” link.

“Anecdotally, we think it’s a fantastic idea,” says Vizzi, whose company sells quarterly subscription boxes filled with locally sourced North Fork products, as well as specialty boxes.

Vizzi and Paulino added the shopping feature in February. They haven’t seen many direct sales from Instagram so far, Vizzi says, but she notes it’s a new feature that users may not have fully grasped.

Instagram says businesses have seen positive results from Shopping on Instagram and recently announced its expansion in eight new countries.

“With this expansion, small businesses can monetize their businesses for a global audience,” says Susan Rose, director of product marketing at Menlo Park, California-based Instagram. She said 44 percent of small businesses already say the platform helps them sell in additional cities, states or countries.

“We’re now seeing about half of daily active people on Instagram in the U.S. are following an active shopping business,” Rose says. There are approximately 500 million daily active users on Instagram, the company says.

While Facebook boasts over 1 billion daily active users, brands may see Instagram as more attractive lately given the high-profile Facebook data debacle and also Facebook’s recent algorithm change that favors posts from friends and family.

“For small businesses it’s really hard to be seen with the Facebook algorithm,” says Kate Talbot, a San Francisco-based social media strategist and marketing consultant, noting firms have to invest more in advertising fees because Facebook’s algorithm favors that. Conversely, Instagram shows more content based on users’ prior engagement with a brand, such as likes, comments and saved posts, says Talbot.

Still, Facebook has a lot of eyes, and it’s a matter of knowing where your audience is, she says.

As for The North Fork Box, “we think it’s important to have a presence in all places,” Paulino says.

And though Facebook owns Instagram, “smart, informed brands approach each platform and its respective communities as separate entities,” says Vanessa Arnone, a digital account director at Didit, a Mineola digital marketing firm.

The interfaces of each platform are entirely different, with Instagram being a highly visual app and Facebook more community-focused, she says.

With that said, “as Instagram Shopping continues to roll out in more countries, continuously improves upon the feature and users become more aware of its existence, it will continue to increase in popularity,” Arnone says, noting that about 30 percent of Instagram users have purchased a product they first discovered on the site.

Keeping the user within the platform reduces the number of steps in the conversion process, making it more user-friendly and more likely that the purchase will be made, she says.

Karen Cardoso, owner and designer at Bolsa Nova Handbags in Lynbrook, which sells leather handbags and straps, agrees.

“It makes the steps shorter,” she says.

She started using the feature about three months ago, and although she hasn’t seen significant direct sales from it yet, she says it has increased her marketing reach and hits to her website.

To help foster sales, feature items with attractive prices, says Talbot, noting the average price point on Instagram is between $30 and $100.

Even if you’re not using the shopping feature, be sure to create copy that’s short and actionable whenever you post images and content on Instagram, she says.

Also try to work with influencers who could showcase your product.

“Influencers have reach and are able to tell a great story because they understand the Instagram platform very well,” Talbot says.

Tips for firms using Shopping on Instagram

  • Create at least nine shopping posts on your Instagram business profile to activate the Shop tab for your audience
  • Tag multiple products in a single post to help your audience explore and browse
  • Leverage different shopping formats -- tag a single image or a carousel (an Instagram Feed post with multiple photos or videos)
  • Make sure your product catalog is up to date and has your most relevant and compelling images
  • Use Instagram Stories to show your audience that they can now shop your posts

Source: Susan Rose of Instagram

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