After finishing shifts at his regular job, Chris Bovey had to eat quick dinners and work into the night making prints for his own small business, Vintage Spokane Prints.
“The print became so successful and I had so much demand coming in, that it either got to a point where I had to stop doing prints or I had to quit the Inlander,” Bovey said.
Bovey quit the weekly paper, something he said he wouldn’t have been able to do without the help of Instagram.
“It was terrifying,” Bovey said. “There was no safety net, there wasn’t a trust fund I could fall back on or anything like that. I looked at it in the fact of I could get a job anywhere. I can go to McDonald’s and get another job, but I only really have one shot at doing something like this.”
Bovey said social media platforms, like Instagram, have provided a way forward for businesses to be free of physical stores.
“I see brick-and-mortar stores closing left and right, and I see what Instagram has created in the fact that we don’t need to necessarily be bound by a store anymore,” Bovey said. “We don’t have to subscribe to the traditional advertising models either. We’re able to take our business by the reins.”
Filter or no filter, users have been posting photos to Instagram for nearly a decade, and more and more Spokane businesses and organizations are finding ways to incorporate the visual platform into their marketing strategies. Instagram is a social network owned by Facebook in which users share photos or short videos with their followers through a mobile app.
Danielle Fowler, co-owner of The Fowler Group, a Spokane real estate agency, got into Instagram by accident. The Fowler Group is owned by Danielle and her husband, Ryan. Danielle was having a particularly difficult last trimester of her pregnancy.
“We were trying to grow a business, and I felt like I couldn’t help at all,” Fowler said. “I was pretty much homebound, and I just fell into Instagram, I was like, ‘Wait, you know I could do social media and that’s a thing I can do from home.’ ”
Fowler tried to take a less traditional approach to promoting their business on the platform.
“Instagram is really trying to get that personal connection,” Fowler said. “Letting someone into your life, not trying to pitch people a home or telling them to call you.”
Fowler said that she falls into Instagram’s target demographic – 25- to 34-year-old women – and so interacting with the platform felt natural to her. She often posted pictures of her husband and herself with their kids, playing in the snow or exploring parks. They have 3,000 followers.
“I don’t have much of a personal account because our business is just interwoven into our personal one,” Fowler said. “ I think it was also just being vulnerable and willing to share, just being another family in Spokane.”
Fowler said that people reach out to her when they are thinking about buying a home because they have engaged with the Instagram account and feel comfortable with her.
Popular ice cream shop The Scoop sees great benefit in Instagram, particularly in posting Instagram stories.
“Just last week I was doing an Instagram story and I took a poll,” said Jennifer Davis, owner of The Scoop. She asked The Scoop’s 5,000 followers what flavors she should make and received 150 comments.
Davis picked the winners and added a photo of the freshly made ice cream to Instagram.
“We probably got, I don’t know, 15 to 20 people that day from me interacting and telling them what flavors I was making,” Davis said. “It’s a double-edged sword, where I may post flavors or put something on there, but we change flavors so fast that by the time somebody sees it a couple days later, we’re already out.”
Davis also said comparing the popular ice cream shop to others around the country can make her anxious.
“It’s that whole thing where I’m not worthy, I’m not doing good enough,” Davis said. “ There’s so much more out there. If you spend time on there, you’ll feel really bad about yourself, too.”
While small businesses in Spokane are leveraging Instagram to find customers, many people use Instagram for entertainment.
Consider that Kim Kardashian has 133 million followers and the Seattle Seahawks have 2.2 million followers.
In Spokane, about 59,000 people follow the Gonzaga men’s basketball team while local chef, food writer and photographer Sylvia Fountaine has about 29,000 followers.
Spokane Arts program manager Mika Maloney said one of the challenges of Instagram is time. Currently, the organization has a social media communications intern who is in the office about nine hours a week, but the intern also tackles tasks like the organization’s newsletter.
“It’s hard to afford the time or resources to put into fully taking advantage of what they can offer as a resource in community building,” Maloney said. “I have found that it’s useful, even if you’re only dipping into it a little bit, it can be a way to connect with people and share.”
Maloney said the platform is great for expanding Spokane Arts’ audience.
“I think there’s a broader, diverse group of people using the different social media platforms,” Maloney said. “ You might reach a different group of people through Instagram than you would through the newsletter or through Facebook or Twitter, so it’s nice to be able to put something out on all of those things.”
Maloney uses Instagram to keep tabs on what other artists in the community are doing – and uses the platform to promote those events.
“They say for most people to connect with something that is happening, they need to hear about it three times,” Maloney said, “so it’s a way for us to be like, ‘ OK, there’s this new show opening at a venue in town and we want to help promote it.’ ”
The Spokane Public Library uses its Instagram as a way to connect to a younger audience.
“Instagram allows us to show that we do a lot of interesting things that are interesting to all ages,” said Amanda Donovan, director of the library’s marketing efforts.
The library participates in a national trend called “bookface,” a photograph of the cover of a book strategically lined up with the face of someone in the real world.
“They’re just a really fun way to engage with the community,” Donovan said.
Donovan said the library’s followers have increased 63% in the last year to 1,780 followers.
Bovey recently hit 3,000 followers, and he said it keeps growing more and more as his prints capture landmarks farther out in the region. He said posting his prints on Instagram help foster a sense of community as well.
“Instead of just trying to promote a product, they’ll tag their friends and then their friends will be like ‘Oh yeah, I went to that drive-in when I was a kid’ and things like that,” Bovey said. “It does almost become that same kind of water-cooler-type community gathering.”
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