For the enterprising and social savvy Indian, the picture-sharing social media app Instagram has emerged as one of the newest frontiers of business. Little wonder then, that ace couturier Sabysachi Mukherjee skipped India Couture Week in July this year to launch his collection on Instagram. It was a bold move, and much talked about, but one that was at once both savvy and timely.
According to a September 2015 study by market research agency Nielsen NV, over 50% of Indian Instagrammers have purchased products from brands they follow on the social platform. This bodes well for a whole slew of Indian entrepreneurs that now use the platform to build successful businesses. With almost 90% of Indian users below 30 years of age (via Neilsen study, September 2015), and engagement rates on the app 10 times higher than Facebook (which owns Instagram), according to a Forrester study done in September 2015, the app has provided the perfect platform for businesses in the entertainment, lifestyle and fitness spaces, among others, to flourish.
Chandigarh-based Simi Deol runs @instantbollywood, one of India’s largest Bollywood-focused Instagram profiles which boasts over 1.9 million followers. While Simi originally ran a blog dedicated to Bollywood, she saw a niche for Bollywood focused content on Instagram. She launched her page in 2012, and since then has grown to manage over 10 allied pages, catering to users looking for content on about the Hindi film industry. @instantbollywood has grown from 100,000 followers in the beginning of 2015, to almost 2million today. Across all her pages, Simi caters to an eager audience of almost 6 million followers on Instagram.
“Our biggest follower base is from India, followed by the Middle East and we do have a very engaged audience from as far as the UK, US and Russia as well,” she says. Given that engaging content is the foundation of the platform’s success, entrepreneurs like Simi are constantly looking for ways to up their content game. As Simi adds, “We get exclusive content for @instantbollywood and our other platforms, and the success of the page lies in our content selection, and our consistency in updating regular, relevant information people seek.”
Deol generates revenues by monetising her content, including deals with brands like Beardo, an Ahmedabad-based startup, fashion collaborations and promoting upcoming movie releases. She adds, “We make sure all our content seems organic and does not look like a promotion. The content I share now reaches far more people than my blog ever could (which had at its highest, a readership of 40-50,000 people), and I do not have to worry about things like Google indexing for SEO, SEM etc. Such engagement on a platform like Facebook is also no longer possible, without a cost outlay”.
The social app has also opened up opportunities for product brands as well. And, it would seem, made it possible to be an entrepreneur at any age. At just 20, S.M. Saloneey runs @flauntandfun, a Chennai-based jewelry and accessories brand, almost exclusively on Instagram. “I do have a website, but everyone finds me on Instagram first. I get almost 85 percent of my orders via Instagram comments or DMs (Direct Messages). Customers then also connect with me via Whatsapp, and pay online or via COD (cash-on-delivery).” With almost 15,000 followers, she caters to around 250-300 orders monthly, from users as far as Pune and Delhi.
However, it isn’t easy pickings for the Insta-entrepreneur. As Saloneey and Simi both admit, competition is immense, given that there is no barrier for entry afforded by the platform itself. While other pages can repost content from @instantbollywood, the similarity of products offered by other Instagram-based brands is a concern for @flauntandfun.
Businesses and brands are also subject to Instagram’s sudden change in rules or functionality, such as the switch from a chronological feed to an algorithmic-based feed in June this year. Having no control over the publishing platform itself also means content-based businesses such as Deol’s may find it risky to use third-party platforms to post content. While tools such as SocialPilot and Onlypult, among others, make it easy for brands to post Instagram specific content, many faced issues when Instagram restricted access to its API in June this year. “I use my phone to publish content across all my 10 accounts. It may be more tedious, but using a third party platform exposes me to further changes in API and maybe even a ban. I know of some cases like this, and wouldn’t take the risk,” says Deol.
“Credibility might also be an issue if one operates solely on Instagram. My website was in this sense, a necessity, while also helping me answer FAQs and other business needs such as building a payment gateway,” says Saloneey. @flauntandfun collaborates with bloggers and other influencers to bolster its brand and grow followers as well.
Despite the hurdles, and long hours spent obsessing over their picture feeds, entrepreneurial minds across India have found a new path to building successful businesses.