Instagram may be the most powerful sales platform on the internet

Recently Business Insider ran the provocative headline: “One Statistic That Should Convince Every Small Business To Get On Instagram.”  The statistic (according to an analytics company SumAll) is that Instagram generates 10% more engagement than Facebook or Twitter.  The article goes on to declare that this increase in engagement leads to direct sales.

I’m convinced.  For law practices, convenience stores, jewelry stores and coffee shops – every single one of them should be on Instagram.  It’s a literal no-brainer.

Just to play Devil’s Advocate….

Let’s keep it real: no social platform is the second coming.  There’s a lot of reason to be skeptical that any social platform can consistently convert prospects into customers.  And a claim like this about Instagram sounds too good to be true… because it is.

Engagement (even if it is truly as high as reported) may not be as helpful if I don’t have an appropriate audience to engage.  So take a look at Instagram’s demographics:

By Gender
68.2% Female
31.8% Male

By Age
23.5% Under 18
34.4% 18 – 25
30.7% 26 – 35
8.2% 36 – 45
2.1% 46 – 55
1.0% Over 55

By Country
53.5% United States
6.9% Brazil
6.0% Thailand
4.0% United Kingdom
3.5% Australia
26.3% Other

(as of May 25, 2012)

Even though Mark Zuckerberg claims that Instagram users are 100 million strong and growing, if a business isn’t selling almost exclusively to Gen M it’s tough to understand how an Instagram account will reach its intended audience.  Of course that’s probably an apt assessment of any social platform that isn’t named Facebook or Twitter, but seems to contradict the assertion that all small businesses should use the platform.

Also, ten times Facebook and Twitter engagement is 10 percent.   For this statistic to be true, every picture you put on Instagram would have 10 percent of your followers interact with it.  How much time would users actually spend “engaging” with your post when they have 10 times the amount of engagement to accomplish?   And how would a more fleeting interaction drive an increase in sales?  In order for this to be true and actionable, it should really be supported by a few data sets.

Nothing is universal and social media isn’t magic

Anything purported to be a cure-all probably isn’t.  Any standalone social media platform purported to drive sales probably doesn’t.  I cringe when writers make these assertions, because they never hold water.

Why did Forrester conclude (from a wide data set) that email and AdWords were a much more effective ways of driving sales than social media?   It could be that those channels have more targeted reach and are more reliable delivery mechanisms.  There’s probably more to it, but that’s irrelevant.  It’s irrelevant because there is good data supporting their findings.

There is evidence of a movement (particularly for Gen Z) away from Facebook to platforms like Instagram and Tumblr.  Anecdotally, I love Instagram.  But taking the giant leap in logic to say that it may have been successful for a few businesses (bearing in mind that there is no available data supporting this), and saying that all businesses should use Instagram is ludicrous.

That said, if a business isn’t using AWeber and AdWords (or their equivalents, audience-depending), I’m going to say that going all in Instagram may be a little reckless.

Photo credit 

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Ted Rubin

    Well done Jim, I agree with respect to many business and their immediate desire to drive traffic and sales. Although I do believe that Instagram is incredibly valuable as a relationship builder and as an indexer of social content. In addition… Instagram as claimed is hardly a Pinterest killer. Pinterest targets a much stronger across the board demographic (of women of course, but women “ARE” what social media is all about), and people go to Pinterest for inspiration and the click-thru’s to e-commerce, especially for food, fashion and beauty related products are proof of the value. Instagram on the other hand is more about sharing, being social, and including other in your lives/activities. Is is more a Facebook experience, and why it was such a perfect fit, than a commerce related experience. Specifically why Google should pay whatever it takes to buy Pinterest asap…. totally relatable to their business model of driving commerce.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Ted! Opinions change constantly about the most appropriate places to sell or connect or whatever, and the truth always remains something along the lines of “it depends.” Except in the case of Google buying Pinterest… :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Andrea Naomi

    Great post Jim. I have to agree with this post entirely. I recently, joined Instagram and love it as well but I find that using tools like Aweber and adwords takes a more holistic approach to marketing than simply imagery and linking, that’s just my two cents of course. Thanks for sharing :)

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks so much Andrea! Nothing is sacrosanct of course, but the better the quality of information that people glean the more successful they will be. Great insight!

      • Andrea Naomi

        Thanks Jim! BTW I love the word sacrosanct it reminds of Rome 😉

  • Lisa Gerber

    There’s a lifecycle to social networks. A very small percentage start off awesome. Those “awesome” ones build a platform and a huge audience, then they need to make money. So they broaden their scope and features, dilute what was awesome, and start to look and feel just like Facebook. :) (new instagram profiles – case in point.)

    • jimdougherty

      Great point Lisa! I was just thinking of social network lifecycles today while discussing Pheed, and you are totally right. It doesn’t even seem like Facebook thinks user experience warrants an afterthought beyond where they can stick some advertising. Instagram is great, but if they really have 100 million users then they probably are going to go the way of Facebook. Good call, apt and insightful as ever!

      I’m so glad you commented because it’s been a long time since I’ve declared “I love Lisa Gerber,” and that need has now been sated.

      • Lisa Gerber

        Awwww, I miss my “greetings from…..” tweets!!!! Speaking of…. greetings and hugs from snowy Northern Idaho!

        • Jim Dougherty

          Well, I may do it one more time to showcase people’s irrational perceptions about gaming Klout! In the meanwhile, we are waiting for our Ohio snow to come…. I’ve even bought a sled!

  • Chad Cuttino

    Good info. Thanks. But, what if my business tries to reach business owners, CEO’s and Presidents of companies? Very few (hell, I don’t think any) of my clients are under 40. Still a good idea to use Instagram?

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Chad, I think I wrote the heading and some of the copy a little deceptively but I haven’t seen evidence that Instagram is a strong driver of traffic for businesses. The best that can be said for it right now is that a lot of young people (particularly women) are using it right now. Appreciate you reading and commenting!