The surge in Black Friday sales for businesses operating on Instagram in Iran indicates the ongoing popularity of the platform despite a government ban.
Podro, a social commerce and logistics company that provides various services to small and medium-sized businesses, claims Instagram-based businesses’ sales went up by 38 percent in value on Black Friday with some small businesses selling up to 20 times more than in normal days. However, no actual sales numbers are available.
Podro’s claims are based on the results of an Instagram Black Friday campaign it launched in which around 2,000 small and medium-sized businesses took part.
Black Friday sales have become popular in Iran in the past few years. Fashion and beauty products made up most of the commodities on sale this year, but even homemade jam and condiments were on offer.
Iranians can only access Instagram and other major social media and instant messaging platforms such as X, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram if they have installed anti-filtering software on their devices. They need to circumvent government filters that make these apps inaccessible in the country.
The ban on Instagram, the only social platform not blocked by authorities, was announced on September 21, 2022, a few days after anti-government protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police engulfed the country.
Instagram is the second most popular social platform in Iran after Telegram with over forty million users. Both platforms are used by millions of small and home-based businesses for marketing.
The ban, and frequent internet blackouts, were meant to prevent protesters from sharing news and footage of the crackdowns. The use of VPNs to help access to banned social platforms and websites, however, surged by 30-fold in the following months.
According to Pashotan Pourpezeshk, the chief executive of Podro, small and medium-sized businesses that use social media as their main marketing tool have the largest share in the country’s online retail market.
A recent report by the e-commerce center of the ministry of industries showed Instagram to be the most used social platform in e-commerce with 55 percent of these businesses relying on it, followed by Telegram (41 percent) and WhatsApp (37 [percent).
Experts have repeatedly warned that filtering Instagram and other social and messaging platforms could be hugely detrimental to small businesses, particularly those run from homes by women or small farms in rural areas, which very heavily rely on Instagram for advertising and WhatsApp for communication with potential customers.
Instagram was instrumental in the exponential growth of small, often home-based businesses that sprang up during the COVID pandemic. Women in many rural areas began selling everything from herbs and vegetables they grew in their rural gardens to duck eggs, and handicrafts through Instagram.
Some of these tiny businesses grew to the extent that they provided work for others. In one fishing village in the southern Bushehr Province, for instance, a fisherman’s young wife started marketing their catch on Instagram a few years ago.
She would clean fish and shrimps caught in the Persian Gulf and send it to customers in nearby cities. The whole village’s catch is now being sold by the business, called Mahimarket (Fish Market).
The catch of the day is packed in ice in polystyrene boxes and sent by airplane to Tehran, over a thousand kilometers away, and other cities, where they are delivered to customers, often individual households, on the same day.
Villagers are also selling other products such as dates, dried herbs, and home-blended spices through the same platform.
Communications minister Issa Zare’pour said last month that forty million Iranians now use domestic social media platforms the number of users of some of which, he claimed, has increased by eight-fold in the past eighteen.
However, there is still a huge demand for anti-filtering software. Yekta Net, a major Iranian online marketing company, said in its latest annual report that 80 percent of Iranians use VPNs to circumvent filtering and access banned social media and messaging platforms. Many Iranians have several anti-filtering software and VPNs on their electronic devices to ensure easier access to banned platforms and websites if authorities manage to disable one or more.