Instagram influencers have opened the door for small businesses to reach new heights.
Instagram is one of the most popular social media apps worldwide, with a particular appeal to younger generations. Business Insider reported in October 2018 that Instagram surpassed Snapchat as the most used app among American teens.
According to a study conducted by Statista, Instagram grew from 90 million monthly users in January 2013 to 1 billion monthly users in June 2018. As a result, many businesses have turned to online influencers to take advantage of these growing numbers.
An Instagram influencer is an individual who promotes trends, products and lifestyles through their posts.
Entrepreneur Victoria Strong is a BYU-Idaho student who said she dreams of expanding her own small business. Strong recently founded Shop Liberato, an exclusively online accessory brand. Strong said without the internet and social media outlets, it would be impossible for her business to function.
“If I was trying to do this ten years ago, I’d have to have a store front, which would cost a huge upfront investment,” Strong said. “Because of Instagram, I was able to start my business with a low starting investment. I work more on Instagram than I do on my website. It’s the main platform for my business.”
Strong described the process she takes to design her feed. Consistency in style, she said, is the key to creating a feed that potential customers will keep revisiting.
Strong said the majority of her pictures have at least one element of the same color in them to create a cohesive advertisement collection as visually appealing beside one another as if they were standing on their own.
“I always try to have a splash of orange in my photos,” Strong said. “So, I have a couple of things in that color — blankets, pillows, books — that I can use in any shot to stay consistent.”
Strong said when influencers reach out to her for a collaboration, usually the first thing she does is look at their feed to make sure their style and their values line up with her brand.
“I don’t actually care about how many followers an influencer has,” Strong said. “My brand is warm, it’s empowering, it’s feminine, it’s colorful and it’s positive, so if somebody wants to work with me, and their profile doesn’t embody most of those things, it’s just not a good fit.”
Strong said influencers are valuable to her business because they provide her product with the credibility and reach it needs.
“Everything I do on my page comes across as marketing and advertisement,” Strong said. “If a follower sees an influencer likes the product and considers them a trustworthy source, it’s as good as if it was her friend who bought a product and referred it to her.”
Strong said she relishes the opportunity to run a business through social media because of the connections it’s allowed her to create. She said she’s built a following of loyal customers on social media by rekindling old relationships with her high school friends as well as by forming new partnerships with the people she’s worked with through Instagram.
“One of the best parts of having my business on Instagram has been making new friends with customers and influencers in this beautiful app where we can all connect,” Strong said. “For me, this is the way I want to grow my business — through genuine friendships. I just want it all to flow form this natural, beautiful, loving place.”
Monica Moore Smith and her husband Justin Packer are both Instagram influencers. Smith and Packer have over 47 thousand and 59 thousand followers on their accounts respectively. They frequently partner with businesses to promote the products they use and love.
Smith is a film actress most recognized for her presence in Mormon Messages and local commercials. Packer is a BYU student studying public health. Packer works as a fitness trainer in Provo while preparing for medical school. He focuses the content of his feed on fitness, motivation and his personal life, while Smith’s focuses on her acting career, music, fashion, faith and daily affirmations for her followers.
Smith said she feels influencers are becoming more and more relevant in today’s consumer society. She said she has seen a massive shift occur in the corporate world to offer the authenticity that today’s consumers are seeking from brands.
“I think the culture of our day has turned against the traditional, corporate, big-business image,” Smith said. “It’s a lot easier to connect with a face than a logo. We want people we can trust. If a friend tells you they love a product, you’re going to take that a lot easier than a commercial you see for the Super Bowl.”
Businesses sometimes make the first move in reaching out to Smith and Packer about collaborating, but the two also reach out to their favorite businesses to promote what they use to their loyal followers.
“A lot of times we reach out to companies to tell them, ‘We already get this — do you want to make something mutual?’” Smith said.
Smith and Packer described the role of their faith in their Instagram marketing. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Packer said they try to communicate their standards with brands from the beginning of an agreement.
Smith added it’s just as important to them to be honest with their followers when they’re promoting a product.
“According to FTC rules, you have to include a hashtag ad or hashtag sponsor in your caption,” Smith said.
In September 2017, the Federal Trade Commission urged on their site for Instagram influencers to clearly disclose their partnership with companies they promote within the first lines of a caption so as to prevent miscommunication or deceptive advertising.
“An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make,” the statement reads. “If there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.”
Packer and Smith once received a piece of exercise equipment from a fitness company they agreed to partner with. Once they used the product, they said they realized the quality was not up to par, and neither of them felt comfortable promoting it.
“It was really horrible,” Smith recalled. “We sent them a message letting them know that if they wanted a review, we were happy to give that, but we were always going to be honest.”
Smith and Packer described getting started on social media as a series of trial and error. The more they experimented with caption-writing, commenting, choosing hashtags and creating content in general, they said, the more they grew.
“Everyone feels like they don’t know what they’re doing at first,” Smith added. “No one really knows what they’re doing. I don’t go on Instagram thinking that I don’t want to put in any effort yet expect people to comment on my stuff. All I know is that if I’m on the platform, I want to be there with intent.”
With time and daily effort, Smith said she was able to grow a following large enough to catch the attention of businesses that wanted to use her influence to market their products.
Packer said he saw an immediate increase in activity on his feed once he started collaborating with businesses like Quest Nutrition.
“Recently I started working with Quest Nutrition, which is a pretty big protein bar company,” he said. “The other day, I made a post about how Quest benefits me, and they’ve shared my story and my profile on their page. They have close to a million followers, so you can see how that would trickle over a little bit to me. It’s mutually beneficial.”
Packer and Smith agreed it is important to post about their personal lives just as much as, if not more than, promotional posts to keep their engagement authentic and real.
“It’s a balance,” Packer said. “I might lose (The followers I have that follow me for me) if I post too much about products.”
Sociology major McKenna Wright said she has a love-hate relationship with the number of influencers popping up on Instagram. She fights a dual mentality inside herself daily, she said.
“Sometimes (I think), ‘Way to go! You have worked hard to get where you’re at, and you absolutely deserve to share what you’ve learned and flaunt it to the world,’” Wright said. “And then sometimes (I think), ‘I don’t really care about what dog shampoo you use or what scrunchies are most fashionable. Can’t you just find validation in your own life without the approval of thousands of followers?’”
Wright herself has gained over three thousand followers on her Instagram account. This, she said, can be credited to the simple fact that she knows a lot of people. Social media for Wright, she said, is truly about cherishing her social connections.
“I love people. I love making and maintaining friendships, and I love staying connected with people that have had any influence in my life,” Wright said.
Wright was a contestant on “Provo’s Most Eligible,” formerly “The Bachelor of Provo.” She admitted that her presence on the show alone gained her hundreds of followers once episodes began coming out. Wright is also a member of the Young Ambassador company at BYU and as such, she said, is actively pursuing her abilities in dancing, singing, acting and modeling.
“Although it is absolutely beneficial to have a large following when you’re pursuing the types of hobbies that I am, I wouldn’t say that I’m doing it on purpose,” Wright said. “I have very visible hobbies, so I do the kinds of things that users of Instagram love to follow.”
Wright said when she considers potentially having a career in influencing, she believes it shouldn’t be primarily about advertising a company’s products or showing off exotic travel destinations.
“I would strive to be an influencer who inspires other people to get to know themselves and their potential for greatness in this world. I would want to be an actual personality, not just an intimidating profile,” Wright said. “I would be happy with a career as a full-time social media influencer as long as I were able to form real connections with my followers and see that I was really making a difference in people’s lives.”