Miranda Jade Plater uses a photo posted to her company's Instagram account to show the long, curly hair extensions she offers through her salon, Limelight Extensions in Farmington Hills, Mich. This photo alone has generated about $10,000 in sales, she said.
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Miranda Jade Plater uses a photo posted to her company's Instagram account to show the long, curly hair extensions she offers through her salon, Limelight Extensions in Farmington Hills, Mich. This photo alone has generated about $10,000 in sales, she said.

Social media builds brands, sales

By JOSEPH PISANI

The Associated Press

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NEW YORK – A picture is worth thousands of dollars for Limelight Extensions.

Phones start ringing at the Farmington Hills, Mich., salon each time co-owner Miranda Jade Plater posts pictures on photo-sharing app Instagram. Would-be customers call to book appointments or ask questions about the hair extensions she posts.

Colorful styles get the most attention. Plater still gets calls about a photo of herself that she uploaded two months ago. In it, she’s wearing long, black, curly hair extensions with the ends dyed bright orange. That photo alone has generated about $10,000 in sales.

“Without Instagram I couldn’t tell you where we would be right now,” she said.

Instagram increasingly plays an important part of small businesses’ social media strategies. It helps them drive sales, gain customers and develop their brand. The app especially is helpful to restaurants, bakeries, clothing stores, hair salons and other businesses that sell items that photograph well.

The app, which was founded in 2010 and was bought by social media company Facebook in 2012, reaches more than 200 million users worldwide. 
Owners said it’s easy to use and like that they can automatically post their Instagram photos on their businesses’ other social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter.

To boost Limelight Extensions’ followers, Plater pays local models and reality show stars to promote the company on their accounts. Payment is either a percentage of sales, a flat rate or free hair. In return, they post photos of themselves wearing the extensions with a link back to Limelight Extensions’ Instagram account. The company has more than 27,000 followers.

Yumbox is trying a similar strategy. The Doylestown, Pa.-based company makes colorful lunch boxes with portioned sections meant to teach kids balanced eating. It recently paid a well-followed health food blogger to post a photo of a food-filled Yumbox. The post spiked traffic to its website and doubled its Instagram followers to almost 5,000.

There are cheaper ways to build followers. Yumbox reposts customer photos. Devitt and co-owner Maia Neumann scour Instagram for photos others posted using Yumbox as a hashtag.

(A hashtag is a word or sentence that begins with the pound sign, such as #yumbox. Using a hashtag, which turns the phrase into a clickable hyperlink, makes it easier for users to find all the pictures about one topic.)

But it’s not just about posting pictures of products. Dyer and Jenkins, a Los Angeles-based online seller of men’s clothing, reinforces through Instagram that its jeans and T-shirts are made in the United States. Owner Josey Orr posts three photos a day to the company’s Instagram account and has a rule: 20 percent of the photos are of Dyer and Jenkins clothing and 80 percent are photos of weathered American flags, classic cars or West Coast highways.

“It’s more about the brand and less about selling products,” Orr said.

That’s also true for Hawaiian hot sauce maker Adoboloco.

“We use Instagram to show what we’re doing in our lives and outside of the business,” owner Tim Parsons said.

He posts photos from the Hawaiian farm where some of the chili peppers used in the sauces are grown. There are also lots of pictures of Maui’s sandy beaches and french fries, eggs and other meals drenched with Adoboloco’s hot sauce.