Hot take: I think that if an immersive VR shopping experience ever actually catches on, it will probably be probably be brought to you by Instagram.
That prediction makes sense if you think about it. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which also owns one of the biggest names in virtual reality. Plus, Instagram has been steadily raising the stakes on their shopping features, and rumors of a shopping-specific IG app are swirling.
But the real reason I think Instagram will be the pioneer of immersive online shopping is that, in a way, they kind of already are. Instagram’s online shopping features manage to preserve a lot of the joy and excitement of real-life shopping — feelings that are missing from many other ecommerce experiences.
Brands that get this — I mean, really get this — are using IG to connect with their customers and increase revenue in a big way.
How can you get on their level?
Dump out the toy chest.
If you’re an instagram user, you know what I’m talking about: explore, video, stories, carousel posts, IGTV, direct messaging, user polls, live video, and of course, shopping. An effective instagram ecommerce strategy involves playing with these toys. Here are some ideas:
Add product links to photo and video posts by integrating your Instagram business account with your Facebook shop (full instructions here).
Use product stickers to add ecommerce links to stories, poll stickers to interact with your customers, and hashtag stickers to promote branded hashtags.
Use live video and IGTV to livestream events, share behind-the-scenes video, and make announcements.
Use direct messaging to interact with customers and answer their important questions.
And don’t forget to play and experiment! Instagram is a growing platform that’s constantly launching new features, and unlike some other platforms, rules and expectations aren’t set in stone. If you see an opportunity for customer interaction or brand promotion, give it a try!
If you build it, they will come.
Here’s an idea that every winning brand on Instagram understands:
Instagram is an opt-in platform.
That’s easy to forget. After all, many brands initially came to Instagram for advertising, so they can’t be blamed for lumping IG in with their other digital ad services.
But, Instagram is first and foremost a tool for engaging with existing shoppers, fans, and motivated buyers... not aggressively going after new prospects. This is one of the few places on the internet where members actively follow brands instead of trying desperately to avoid them — in fact, a full 80% of IG accounts follow at least one business.
What are you supposed to do with this? I suggest treating your IG profile more like a retail store and less like the street in front of a retail store.
In other words, the people who are looking at your posts have already wandered in — all you have to worry about is having the stuff they want on display in a friendly, inviting atmosphere. You don’t have to shove flyers into their hands or brush up on your sign spinning skills.
And actually, the more you focus on engaging with your existing shoppers, the more likely you are to capture new ones; Instagram automatically finds high-engagement posts and shares them with your target audience via the explore tab.
Psssttt... looking for more social selling insights & best practices? Check out Your Treasure Map to a Winning Facebook Ecommerce Strategy
Be more magazine than catalog.
On that note, here’s a simple tip for curating the content that makes it onto your profile and stories: lean magazine.
You might be tempted to think of your brand’s IG profile as a catalog, but remember, no one likes catalogs anymore. Even when catalogs were popular, people used them to wipe their rear ends. If your products-only instagram page wasn’t trapped behind an iPhone screen, it might suffer a similar fate.
Winning brands strike a balance between product promotion and lifestyle posts, user-generated posts, partner posts, and other content. Winning brands also have defined aesthetics — just listen to the founders of Spearmint LOVE, a baby brand that currently boasts 357k IG followers:
“If I had to pick the most important thing, I would say the pictures need to feel genuine. Posts that feel over “photo-shopped” often lack an authenticity that is really critical to connecting with your audience. Find a style that works for you and post often, i.e. 3 to 5 times a day... If your feed lacks a cohesive feel, your audience will have a hard time relating to your content.”
So that means no rows of sterile product photographs on white backgrounds. Your product posts should feel like a natural extension of your brand’s personality, complete with the inviting look and feel you would expect from a successful retail location.
Instagram is a shopper’s platform. For brands that do it right, the IG shopping experience can feel a lot like the in-store shopping experience, and that’s an unbelievable asset.
Getting to that level requires letting go of aggressive sales tactics. Instead, focus on making your profile tasteful, attractive, functional, and friendly, and customers will wander in.