Rena Tom Rena Tom

Three Facts and an Opinion

Let’s get the facts out of the way, shall we? Just a little housekeeping:

1) I’m flying to Austin this Thursday to participate in my first SXSW. Eeep! Frankly, I am terrified. I really do not like crowds, or strangers, or crowds of strangers. I get my fill of technology and “innovation” by living in San Francisco. And I’m old. So if you happen to be attending, and you’re not feeling shy, I am happy to say hi to blog readers/friends, but if I am awkward, I apologize in advance. I usually post a picture on Instagram that details my whereabouts, and thus you can find me and have a nice one on one conversation, maybe over a beer or a donut. I really prefer that to crowds.

I’m doing a mentor session on Friday (booked up) and also participating in a panel on Sunday with some very smart ladies. There may be an informal Makeshift member/friend meetup as well.

2) At the end of March, I’ll be in Portland, OR for Pioneer Nation. It’s a new conference run by the World Domination Summit folks and I am honored to have been asked to speak. I’m writing (and rewriting) a talk for that, and I may be doing a Retail Readiness workshop as well.

As far as the rest of the spring and summer, well, I’d like to get some non-Makeshift travel in, so I am attempting to take the workshop on the road again. Tentatively I will be in Los Angeles in June, and I want to try for Vancouver and Toronto too, and maybe a New York City class, once MSS opens doors! Stay tuned.

3) Speaking of Makeshift Brooklyn, we’ve finally got pricing ready (here you go), and are taking deposits down for membership. If you are in Brooklyn or have a friend who is there, check it out. We are not ready yet (getting there!) but are prepping like crazy. You can email if you have questions or are ready to jump in.

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And finally for the opinion. I have been tracking research about retail for a long time now. Trends are fun to dissect and watch out for – remember subscription commerce? Well, one that I never thought would be appealing was mobile – and I was wrong. But if you are a small business, it still is a little inaccessible. Most indie retailers are not going to have their own purpose-built app, and most e-commerce webstores just appear the same on a phone, only smaller. What’s the appeal of browsing a webstore with lots of tiny photos and scrolling?

The fun, slightly subversive and inexpensive way to sell is to use a platform that was never designed for that purpose. In fact, most makers or small shops already have an account set up, so it’s very fast to get in on the mobile commerce action. The platform is Instagram.

This is not a new thing people have been doing, but it is more widespread now, has not been shut down yet, and feels natural, simple and manageable. When you are already busy with the rest of your small business, anything natural, simple and manageable that is also potentially profitable is a revelation.

The images above are a few people and companies I follow, by a product maker, an online webstore that makers can apply to be on, and a secondhand resale forum that only exists on Instagram, respectively. They show three different approaches to content that can lead to sales, both direct and indirect. The beauty of the platform is that it is flexible enough to allow for all of these approaches to exist. Also, The photo content varies from straight product shot to montage to personal snaps to “store” announcement to reference material. Instagram has supplanted blogs, in some ways, and for people who are more visual by nature, they may find it easier and more fun than sitting down and writing a post (like this one). It’s fast versus slow; Instagram inspires action, and blogging inspires reflection.

I think this platform is the most fun one for me, right now, precisely because it’s like the Wild West, but you have a chance to communicate with people who like what they see, or actually what *you* see, and you can bend narrative in new ways. (My favorite non-retail project is by thinker/curator Hans Ulrich Obrist who has chosen to collect handwritten snippets or statements from the various artists he knows. It brings sometimes lofty people down to earth, when you read their writing on Post-Its and heart-shaped stationery.)

What do you think – how have you experimented with Instagram for your business? Do you prefer another platform? Let me know about it.

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  1. Monica Lee says:

    HI Rena! I have been watching particular businesses and artists on instagram with unwavering curiosity. I can’t pull myself away! It has been my fastest growing social media avenue probably because it is simply the most enjoyable. Oddly, I did NOT set out to use it to grow a web show-I couldn’t wrap my brain around how to do that but somehow it is doing just that, growing Smart Creative Women-I see people tag their friends to tell them about the show! Wow! Who knew? Now once a week, I try to figure out what image might look decent on my stream while mentioning the week’s guest. Tricky, but trying not to overthink it!

  2. Am completely fascinated that some people are using Instagram as a shop – I use it to show off new product, be a goof, etc., but never thought to link it to my e-commerce site when I post. I also need to start following industry peeps there – I do follow some of my indie craft friends, but mostly, I just follow skaters cuz they’re up late + they take a lot of pictures of each other doing cool tricks.  I definitely need to get with the 90’s.  Rena, thanks so much! Have a great SXSW – wish I was there.

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