With bars and restaurant dining rooms closed to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses like Portland’s Bar King are leaning hard on their Instagram accounts to maintain crucial connections with customers. Social media manager Kari Young posts updates about Bar King’s garden, photos of co-owner Jamie King celebrating her birthday, and daily takeout menus advertising specials like prime rib or smoked brisket — link to an online order form in bio.
“In this non-social time... social media is going to be our best weapon,” says co-owner Shaun King.
Instagram has taken notice of this user behavior on its platform, too, and hopes to reinforce it with new features. Today, the company released new profile buttons and story stickers available for business accounts in the U.S. and Canada: An “order food” profile button and story sticker links directly to third-party delivery apps, and more buttons and stickers let customers buy gift cards or donate to fundraisers.
“We heard really clearly that restaurants want help staying open,” says Instagram chief operating officer Justin Osofsky. “As you’re looking at what’s happening just naturally on Instagram, a lot of people are trying to promote gift cards and the ability to support [them], and a lot are using [Instagram] to highlight their delivery services. This is taking something that’s already happening and making it a lot easier.” A global rollout of the features in more languages will follow the North American release.
Businesses can set up links to their preferred delivery partner (DoorDash/Caviar, Grubhub/Seamless, Uber Eats, Postmates, ChowNow, delivery.com), gift cards from the companies Kabbage, Raise, Yiftee, and Square, and fundraisers through Facebook (which doesn’t take a commission or suggest tips on donations). Customers can spread the message by reposting a business’s story, including order and donate stickers.
Instagram isn’t charging commission fees on these transactions, like it started to for sales of retail products through its app last year, and Instagram for business accounts are free to set up and use. The Facebook-owned company relies on an ad-based revenue model, which brought in $20 billion last year. But for ad revenue to survive the current financial crisis, businesses need to survive, too — so lending an oar to Instagram’s active content creators in the restaurant world is good for Instagram’s bottom line as well.
Marc Schechter, the Instagram-savvy co-owner of San Francisco pizzeria Square Pie Guys, is looking forward to using the new delivery button and sticker. “It’s no delay, the purest form of online impulse purchase,” says Schechter, who grew his business from pop-up to brick-and-mortar thanks in part to Instagram exposure. “You see a beautiful picture of food, you don’t have to swipe away from it, you go right to it.”
Similar linking features are already available to Instagram accounts with more than 10,000 followers — a magic number Schechter has yet to reach with Square Pie Guys (current count: 8.9k). He’s glad Instagram is finally adding link capabilities for business accounts regardless of their following. “Maybe they should have been more thoughtful about putting that [wall] up in the first place,” Schechter says. “I can’t imagine what our conversion rate would have been if we’d had those features available earlier… it was frustrating there was that red tape.”
Instagram’s new functions are available to all businesses, but they’re most likely to benefit ones like Square Pie Guys that are fluent in social media and had already developed strong takeout and delivery channels before the COVID-19 crisis. 65 percent of Square Pie Guys’s orders were already through third-party delivery services before San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order took effect.
Other businesses like Poncho’s Tlayudas in Los Angeles have had no problem setting up an Instagram for business account, or building a following for their weekly pop-ups selling indigenous Oaxacan food like blood-sausage-stuffed tlayudas. But Poncho’s hasn’t built delivery channels through third-party apps, which are often criticized for their high commission fees.
Instead, owner Alfonso “Poncho” Martinez recently started selling tamales to-go directly through Instagram to anyone who would message him. “It was so crazy to take orders through the Instagram direct message,” says Martinez, who was quickly overwhelmed. Now, he’s set up an online order form on his site, similar to the one used by Bar King. Instagram won’t link to that form through the new order buttons or stickers, though, encouraging users to leave those links in their bios instead.
Still, having any way to contact homebound customers feels vital to chefs like King. If nothing else, it’s an important reminder. “We wanted to convey the message we’re here for a while,” King says. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Additional reporting by Meghan McCarron