Why social media is the new business card

Young entrepreneur Anna Ross has exploited the Instagram social media platform with big results.

Ross, the founder of nail polish company Kester Black, has just signed four international deals without having to get on a plane and shake hands at one international trade show.

Instead, Ross has overseen a compelling Instagram account that is winning fans around the world.

Many business owners have to sign up for industry or government sponsored trade shows, where they might have to pack up their goods, fly them across to the other side of the world, rub shoulders and shake hands at networking events and then hope that a deal might eventuate.

But Ross, who concedes she is far from an expert on the platform, has been able to reach tens of thousands of people around the world.

Instagram, a visual story telling application founded in 2010, has 700 million followers, according to data from April, this year.

For many small businesses it is a low cost application, which, when used correctly, can be an effective networking and marketing tool.

Ross says she signed up to Instagram as a cheap way to market her nail polish business, Kester Black. To her surprise, it not only drove customers to her business, but led to some important networking opportunities resulting in collaborations and international distributorship deals.

Ross, started making the nail polishes to match her jewellery designs, but soon the nail polish business overtook the jewellery.

In times past, Ross may have stumbled over her first collaboration at a networking event. But, in an indication of how powerful mediums such as Instagram have become, she was able to connect with nail artist Chelsea Bagan, who runs the successful Trophy Wife Nail Art business.

“I was really keen to do a book featuring my nail polish and nail art,” Ross says.

She said the pair clicked and created a book that ended up being an excellent marketing tool.

Their first run was bought by fashion house Gorman and sold through their stores. Ross says this was great exposure for both brands. Ross and Bagan have continued to collaborate and cross promote each other.

Kester Black has an Instagram following of more than 40,000 and Trophy Wife Nail Art 36,000.

Ross says she has been very careful about the management of her Instagram page because she is so aware of it as an important business tool.

Until recently she has been responsible for all content on the platform. However, as the demands of the business have taken up her time, she has delegated the role, still running her eye over every post to ensure it has the look and feel she wants her brand to convey.

Anna Ross from Kester Black

Ross says content management companies have approached her, offering to run her social media, but she insists on keeping it in-house.

“I think it is really important that the social media posts are representative of your company and it is very hard for someone outside the business to get that right,” she says.

Ross says despite fumbling her way through, she has made four international distributorship deals with companies who saw her brand via her Instagram account.

She is still not clear as to how often she should post and what hashtags she should use.

“Some businesses are posting all day long but I haven’t got the time for that. I am not really that good at hashtags, either,” she says.

She reposts images from other sources that are providing a good way to network with other businesses. She also creates her own content.

Currently the page has a carefully curated colour theme.

There is no hard sell but more a carefully curated celebration of colour. Sprinkled among the posts is information about the packaging being made from recycled waste, suggestions about polish colors and posts about their charity partnership. You will rarely see a bottle of nail polish.

Ross’s business ticks a number of important boxes for consumers. Her products are Australian made, cruelty free, vegan and non-toxic. She uses these and other words in hashtags, to generate awareness across interested user groups.

But while Ross’s business has thrived through this process, social media and public relations expert Trevor Young cautions that not every business is suited to Instagram.

“Small business operators tend to sign up for every social network and then wonder why they're not getting the results they seek,” he says.

He says many businesses sign up but put in a halfhearted effort.

“Insta is suited to a range of businesses, but not everyone needs to be on it,” he says.

 

Digital publisher of Foundr Nathan Chan doubts the value of Instagram for small businesses in the B2B market, but says customer-facing businesses can leverage it with great success as a networking tool.

Chan, who has one million followers on his Foundr Instagram account, says you need to put in the work.

From an information technology background, Chan says he was looking for something he was passionate about and found his way into digital publishing pitched at small businesses.

Instagram is one tool to drive customers to his Foundr assets where they can subscribe.

Chan says it has taken just two years to amass the Instagram followers with many of them based in the United States.

Foundr posts on Instagram as much as seven to 10 times a day. The content is often inspirational quotes, teasers of content in the magazine and borrowed material.

Hashtags are used but not on every post.

“Hashtags can be powerful but it is all about liking and commenting on other relevant pages,” he says.

“We aim to develop awesome content that is shareable.”

Chan says other users will share good content and they will draw people to your account. Sharing among followers is a new way of networking.

Tapping into influencers can sometimes require a payment but he is more likely to look for people who can share mutual benefits.

“Some people might think that I am crazy, but we have found that the more we post the more we grow,” he says.

Tapping into Instagram to expand your network

Instagram derives its name from “instant camera” and “telegram”.

It allows you to upload photographs and videos.

People who like your page are called followers and part of your network.

You can follow pages that you are interested in, much the same way as you’d hand over a business card in a traditional networking event.

You can “geotag” locations to show people where you are. This is good way to build your local network.

You can tag other accounts. For instance, if you are at a cafe you can tag it.

An account you have tagged will get a notification you have tagged them.

You can share content from other pages but you must credit it. This makes people in your network feel appreciated and they will reciprocate.

Hashtags for small businesses might include #smallbiz #entrepreneur #startup

People can like and or comment on your post.

Hashtags, tagging, sharing, commenting and liking are all good ways to raise your profile.

Regular, compelling and authentic content is aimed at converting followers to buyers and expanding your network.

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