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SMH: The new Insta-famous: Businesses go beyond well-framed perfection

Hazem standing in shop aisle
By Emma Koehn

Source: SMH


Hazem Sedda spends two hours a day on Instagram, replying to hundreds of fans asking him about stock levels at his convenience store in Redfern.

"I would get between 100 and 150 [product] requests a week," Sedda says.

The Redfern Convenience Store, which Sedda has run with his father since coming from Palestine to Sydney in 2003, has 14,000 Instagram followers.

That's a much smaller fan base than many Australian lifestyle brands, some of which have millions of followers. But Sedda says his presence on the platform has boosted the $1 million company's sales by as much as 30 per cent and turned the family business into a cult favourite.

"Honestly, being there is like owning the whole world. You can meet the really, really poor to the very richest people," Sedda, a qualified commercial pilot, says about running the business.

The store has gained international attention with its 'Customer of the Day' posts, focusing on the best stories from shoppers.

"I always centre it on a good story. People who do things for the community - I love to share their stories," Sedda says.

He met Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore earlier this week, when she popped in having heard great things about the shop.

One customer came from the other side of the city to spend $70 — a pretty big outlay for a milk bar transaction. Another recently turned up in his workwear, having knocked off early specifically to buy the shop's entire stock of Taki chips, a snack usually only found in the US.

Redfern Convenience Store has managed to leverage the platform without using Instagram's shopping tools or pushing customers to buy products featured in posts.

The approach highlights a trend Instagram Australia has discovered when investigating how businesses are using the social media site: a well-curated image isn't enough to guarantee reach.

One million 'Instagram stories' are created by Australians each day. Instagram says to its surprise, customers' instant-message responses to these visual stimuli are significant.

One in three Instagram story posts shared by businesses will result in a follow up message from a customer, who may be inquiring about an experience, stock item or sale opportunity.

Hazem says it's critical to respond to each message within hours, meaning he doesn't really have scope for a personal Instagram - "there's too much else" going on.

Beyond food photos

Instagram's advertising revenue has grown from $US630 million ($875 million) to $US6.84 billion between 2015 and 2018, according to Stastisa.

Group Instagram director for Australia, Naomi Shepherd, says the platform is now no longer just a place for fashion and food businesses to share.

"I’m always really surprised by it. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's very food-related, but we're seeing a lot of people in the fintech space, and the health and fitness space now," Shepherd says.

Instagram does not reveal details of how many Australian businesses are using the platform, or how much they spend when boosting posts. Shepherd says "it doesn't take much" for a brand to decide to increase its reach through spending on advertising formats.

"Then, lots of businesses are using it without ever putting a dollar behind it," she says.

Despite Instagram having a reputation for catering to lifestyle and homewares businesses, not all companies have relied on it for reach.

Melbourne online gift store Yellow Octopus says it has only just turned to the platform in recent months, and it "won't likely be a key driver" for sales.

Chief executive Derek Sheen says the $3 million business, which has just over 1,000 followers, will try to boost its investment in product-specific posts.

"We’d be looking to scale in the next few months, as it is providing us with an effective return when all other areas of advertising are so competitive and cluttered," Sheen says.

Costs per click on the site have been 20-85c for the business so far. While some advertising opportunities on the platform have been on the pricier side, the business thinks it's getting better bang for buck on the image sharing site when compared with Facebook.

The reporter attended an Instagram Master Class in Business event in Sydney as a guest of Instagram.