Most people think of Instagram as a way of keeping in touch with friends or snooping on celebrities, but some young entrepreneurs are using the platform as a way around difficult circumstances. Take, for example, Mohammed Hammed: his personalized notebook business, Dfter, is the only one of its kind in the Gaza Strip. A combination of recent conflicts, power shortages, and legal restrictions on building materials makes opening a shop in the Gaza Strip nearly impossible. But with the help of Instagram, and other online platforms, it is now possible to run a business without a physical store location. While his business is probably not scalable in Gaza’s current political climate, Hammed’s Instagram store provides an employment opportunity in a community where youth unemployment is currently at 58%*.
In the United States, commerce via Instagram takes a much more corporate route, largely centred around sponsorships from large brands. This means the revenue stream is less direct and expectations can get out of hand, leading to business disasters like the Fyre Festival earlier this year. The power of branding outgrew the festival, so much so that the tropic island get-away boasting luxury and exclusivity turned out to be a dirt field full of dodgy-looking tents. So is the use of Instagram as a business platform for better or worse? I think it comes down to directness in marketing. Because the app can also be used to keep in touch with people from your personal life, branding on Instagram can feel real in a way that a TV ad would not. On a small scale, this sense of community and familiarity can help businesses like Hammed’s reach its client base. On a large scale, however, this can lead to misrepresentation and false advertising.
*: Young Entrepreneurs are Using Instagram to Bring E-Commerce to Gaza, Fast Company