ASTANA – The addiction of social media is not lost on Kazakhstan. Among all popular social platforms in the country, the highest growth rate is among Instagram users. Even though there is still a place for selfies and life moment posts, more and more Astana residents find Instagram to be their online reference guide.
According to the Pew Research Centre, 31 percent of Instagram users worldwide are women between the ages of 18-29.
“There is no information on demographics in social media in Kazakhstan, but according to our information the majority of Instagram users in Kazakhstan are also young women,” said MediaTime.kz Business Development Department head Assel Suponova in a Sept. 4 interview.
Elena Smolnikova is one of them. Following our Sept. 7 meeting, she proposed taking a selfie, then slightly elevated an eyebrow, smiled and took the picture of us by touching a button on the front of her camera.
“You need to hold your smartphone at 45 degrees just above your eye line,” she taught me. “The pose is important and your smile says you are not taking it too seriously.”
A law school student, Smolnikova spends most of her free time on Instagram.
“It is a minimum of four hours per day,” she noted.
She admitted it is an addiction, but at the same time does not want to quit.
“It’s almost like a visual diary. I can look back and see what I looked like at a particular time, what I was wearing. There are no friendship boundaries between followers and you do not feel social pressure as on Facebook. You can make your account private and follow only those who you like,” said Smolnikova.
Aliya Issenova is also a frequent Instagram user. The mother of two children, she has been using the platform for more than three years. She calls Instagram her family photobook and more than 11,000 followers have never missed a turn in her life.
“I first learned about Instagram from my ‘mommy’ friends. They always chat about what they saw on Instagram and suggest each other follow some accounts. Instagram is my open microphone now. Usually I post pictures of my children, but most of the users follow me just because they like to read the descriptions I write under the photos. I speak openly about everything that happened or is happening in my life. I think it is a rare phenomenon in Astana when people tell their true opinions and are honest with each other in social media. Most of the users just got stuck on the topic of ‘how cool I am,’” said Issenova in a Sept. 4 interview.
Most of her friends have come from Instagram. She meets and reads them every day and claims Instagram is the best communication tool for her.
“As a mother of two children, employee and wife, I do not have enough time for myself and for my friends. So it is easy for me to share my problems with people on Instagram and get support and nice comments from my followers. Most of them want to meet me personally and I am always happy to see them in real life. I meet them when I travel around Kazakhstan; when I was in Paris and in Moscow I met my followers as well,” she said.
Evgeniya Garkushina is also a busy mother who is now on maternity leave. Her initial experience with social media was for work and at first she was very skeptical about Instagram.
“I thought it was just a platform for people who like to take selfies. However, when all the people I am surrounded by started to use it, I decided to open an account there as well. I realised how useful it can be; I found a nice cosmetologist there, kindergarten for my child and all my followers now help me and share information with me that I need,” she said in a Sept. 3 interview.
Garkushina was originally a passive Instagram user, but now she has her own community.
“I always liked to buy things online, but the price for shipping to Kazakhstan is quite high. So one day I decided to announce that I was going to order things online. I asked people if they wanted to order everything together and just divide the cost of shipping between us. People liked the idea because most of them just wanted to buy one thing abroad and did not want to spend the time for the whole process of ordering. After my announcement, the number of my followers rose rapidly. I even made my account private in order to protect my followers’ information. And now I have my own business based on Instagram; it is not profitable, but I enjoy helping people and being useful for my family as well,” she said.
Suponova confirmed Instagram is becoming the favourite communication and public relations instrument for small entrepreneurs.
“One of the biggest benefits to using Instagram as a marketing tool is that it is completely free and very simple. Many small businesses use Instagram as a storefront to ‘display’ new products and ideas. Most of the sellers, pastry masters, hairdressers and barbers do not give customers their business card in their first meeting, but tell them their Instagram pages. The use of correct hashtags gives people the information: where to go, what to buy and what service to use in Astana,” she said.
She added @shodim_ASTANA (Where to go in Astana) has around 40,000 followers and posts three-four announcements daily. The same types of accounts exist in every Kazakh city. Aizhan Kozhakhmetova follows @shodim_ASTANA accounts and many others: her designer Instagram, family accounts, online stores, doctors and even some pets.
“Instagram is a very useful platform. We can find everything we need there. I am a small businesswoman and I found the way to sell my handmade jewelry via Instagram. So now I have quit my office job and finally do what I love. I did not invest money to promote my business. Instagram is a free platform; you just have to know how to take nice pictures and be quick in replying to comments. I was. So now I can even afford to pay the person who helps me with delivering my products to customers,” she said in a Sept. 10 interview.