SMALL BUSINESSES AND LOCAL ARTISTS ARE TURNING TO SOCIAL MEDIA TO SAVE THEMSELVES DURING A PANDEMIC.
By Manahil Butt
For many small business owners and artists, social media has become the best tool to stay afloat and find new clients during the pandemic.
“Social media has helped tremendously, as it is a way of showcasing what I do and showing people what I love doing,” said Baahar Kohistani, a freelance model and brand ambassador for Vasanti Cosmetics and Luxy Hair in Mississauga, Ont. “I was able to create an audience for myself that love seeing my content, which gives me even more motivation.”
Like many, Kohistani was affected by losing hours and not being able to go to photoshoots. This was hard for her as she calls herself a workaholic. In order to maintain and find clients for the future, she needed to continue being consistent with her engagement on social platforms.
“I’m working on my Instagram planner almost every day, constantly adjusting it and adding more content, so I know what to post next and why,” said Kohistani. “This itself is a job on its own, and you have to be on your A-game with it.”
Kohistani has 3, 345 followers on her Instagram account. She markets to her followers in hopes to grab attention from agencies and clients interested in her posts.
“Modelling isn’t just about posing and ‘looking cute for the camera’ but rather there being a beautiful story behind each shoot, and it is my job to execute that story to an audience,” said Kohistani. “I love keeping in contact with my audience by doing polls on my story of what they want to see more of or just getting their opinions on things.”
Social media is a huge platform to create content to cater to anyone’s niche. For Kohistani, she picked up 50 to 60 followers in the past three months from social media. She continues to find new methods to reel people in and schedules future gigs for when the pandemic is over.
The pandemic has seriously affected most Canadian businesses. According to Statistics Canada, small businesses (those with one to 99 employees) were more likely to see their revenue decrease by 40 per cent or more from April 2019 in comparison to bigger businesses.
Although the Canadian government has programs to support local businesses during this time, many business owners, like Murteza Ali, were conflicted about taking money in case they couldn’t pay it back.
“Being unable to work makes it harder to make ends meet and pay business expenses because I can no longer make an income during this period,” said Ali, owner of Mcutz, a barber shop in Mississauga, Ont. “This industry is a one-on-one physical contact service, which restricts my daily income.”
Ali started his business in May 2018 in his parents’ garage where his clientele was mainly his friends. He noticed many people finding success in the barbering industry who didn’t pursue further education after high school and decided to give it a shot.
Through branding his business on social media, he gained more attention and grew his clientele. He started off with about 50 followers on Instagram and was cutting hair for people in his neighbourhood. Now, he has around 1,120 followers and has branched out to other neighbourhoods outside of Mississauga.
“The worst thing you can do for yourself as a business is not promote yourself, because some content is better than no content,” said Ali. “People love to see the person behind the camera, and posting my work like beard lineups and the premium presidential services allow me to engage my followers.”
Simply posting a few photos online is not enough to become successful.
“Before starting off with any platform, businesses need to develop their brand voice and think about what content is most likely to select their brand personality,” said Ammara Mahmood, a marketing professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ont.
Mahmood said it’s important for businesses to think about long-term strategies instead of short-term gain. Blindly going after followers is the wrong approach.
“Everything must be carefully thought out, and you need to have full content portfolios,” said Mahmood. “There might be some pieces of content that are good at getting that initial exposure, or some pieces that are good for engagement, but it depends on what the brand has to say and what the potential audience is willing to listen to.”
COVID-19 caused many businesses to do their own social media marketing instead of hiring an employee or agency. Ebrahim Mazaheri, a social media marketing professor at Laurier, said lots of customers want to support local businesses but don’t know how.
“Google Maps is very important, and small businesses should take advantage of it,” said Mazaheri. “They need to do paid advertising — they need to invest enough money and time to social media for people to see the ads, to go to see the content and be able to find it.”
Mazaheri is empathetic towards small businesses that are struggling but said this is the right time for businesses to force themselves into rebranding and investing in e-commerce and digital media marketing.
Gold Peach Brown Mood Board Photo Collage by Manahil Butt