As the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram, there is nobody who knows more about what equals success for brands on the platform than Eva Chen, who just hit 1 million followers on Instagram.
And, as the company announces plans to increase the number of ways we can shop on the app, we sat down with Chen to discuss what really goes into creating a successful shopping account on Instagram.
These were her biggest pointers:
Instagram is not about perfection
Although it might often seem that people create the perfect versions of themselves on social media, when it comes to building your brand, Chen believes that it truly isn’t about posting those expertly photographed or edited snaps.
“I would say that the number one starter rule for a brand that wants to launch shopping on Instagram is not to feel like every image has to be perfect and photographed by a high-end photographer. Not only are iPhones and Google phones pretty amazing at photography these days, but images shot on a mobile device tend to actually perform better because they are more real.”
Chen uses Victoria Beckham as a great example for this: “Yes Juergen Teller shot her amazing new campaign, but on Instagram, she is also posting images of her sleeping in her office during late-night fittings – it just feels a little more intimate.”
“I am a big believer in the lasting power of beautiful imagery and there is definitely a place for editorial content, but if you are creating a brand on Instagram, it is better to be a little more human,” Chen adds.
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The most successful fashion and beauty brands on Instagram are those which show humanity, Chen says.
“One of the great things about Instagram is that is that you can give your followers a greater sense of who you are as a person. For example, someone like Sam McKnight loves gardening and he can show this element of himself on social media, which makes these legendary people feel more real, more human.
View this post on Instagram
#goodmorning I grew all my cosmos from seed this year, and was a bit late transplanting some of them into the ground. They’re just beginning to flower. I wonder if they’ll get to 9ft again this year? They’ll flower through the first frosts in November so we’ll see. #cosmos #flowers #garden
“If you love gardening or you love to cook or you love interior design, show your followers. It gives them a better sense of who you are. It shows all these facets of your personality because no one is one-dimensional, nobody is just pure fashion. Show the other things that mean a lot to you. It’s 2018 – people want to feel a human connection.”
Do not be too mysterious
It’s all well and good to be arty and inventive, but Chen says that you really need to think more broadly when it comes to using Instagram to spread your brand message.
“Some brands have this desire to be super mysterious and they decide that they are only going to post once a week and it’s going to be this arty black-and-white picture of an elbow that represents the winds of change or something and it’s like, come on, most people are not going to relate to that.”
Chen says that you need to remember that there are one billion people on Instagram and most of them want to see the real side of fashion.
“So often, people will curate their Instagram to impress the Business of Fashion 500 and while this is a really laudable list of people, you have to remember all the millions of other people who use the platform too. You are competing with the hundreds of other accounts they follow and you need to stand out.”
Essentially, don’t try to hard or overthink what you’re posting.
Don’t post too infrequently
In the same vein, Chen says that to realistically compete with all of the other accounts on the app, you need to not just be relatable, but you need to post frequently, something that a lot of brands are afraid to do. You cannot just expect that your followers are all going to see your one weekly post.
“Think about this – most fashion followers open Instagram 32.5 times a day and you are not the only brand on there, I personally follow 1,100 accounts. If you are not posting and you do not have an active voice, how can you expect your account to be visible?
“When you go to an account and it is a blank page with hardly any posts, it’s obviously not as engaging as when you go to an account and they are posting every day. Some real success stories I have seen lately have been a lot of independent jewellery businesses coming out of Los Angeles. They are posting tons of content of the jewellery on people that work there, of the jewellery on their followers, etc and that is a really compelling experience.”
Take people behind the scenes
Just as Instagram is an excellent tool for showing the different facets of your personality as a designer or a stylist, it is also a great way of letting people know what goes into your work. It will help your followers appreciate your craft more, but, more than that, it is actually really interesting to people who may not know what goes into running a fashion business, she says.
“Look at a brand like Pyer Moss, who, in the days leading up to his show, literally posted everything that was happening, from the fittings to the seating chart. Don’t just show your followers the final lookbook images, show them what it took to get there because it actually means something. It will give people a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and it makes it more precious to them because they will understand the process. Tell them a story.”
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Remember, your work will be really interesting to people, particularly those who don’t know the industry.
“I work with a lot of designers who think that their day-to-day life is really boring because they’re stuck in the studio working. But you walk in there and they have this entire wall of fabric and that’s an Instagram post right there. Instagram is full of people who don’t get to see the view of the Eiffel Tower out of your studio every day so take them behind the scenes of what you do on a daily basis.”
Take part in the conversation
There should be no snobbery about using hashtags or trying to tap into the broader conversation, Chen says. This is a great way to be visible.
“The fashion community is very wary of hashtags, but if you think about the millions of people that you might be able to reach who are following something like #LFW or #OOTD, it is worth using them.”
Speak to your community
As well as using hashtags to widen your community, remember to look after the one you already have. Being able to directly communicate with your customers is one of the greatest benefits of having Instagram.
“Take for example, a brand like Glossier, which is obviously a huge success story. It has a whole dedicated customer service team for Instagram who are there to answer follower questions and direct messages. Because of successfully running this, they have created a community and have from there, really achieved the holy grail of engagement.
“Now, if follower X, lets name her Sarah, comments on a post to ask Glossier a question, another follower will respond back to her without the brand even having to get involved.
“They have created a sense of community and therefore their followers have become natural spokespeople for the brand. Ganni is the same way – there is a tribe of women who love it and will interact with each other. This comes from creating a community.”
Make the most of the Instagram audience
“If I were to ever launch a fashion line which, exclusive breaking news, I am not, Instagram would be the way I would do it. You have one billion people on the platform, 400 million people using Instagram Stories every day and 90 million users who are tapping to reveal shopping tags on posts every month.
“I think it is the best way to build a brand very organically and because of the way you can communicate with your audience, it is a really natural place for shopping.”
And, now that it has been so successful, the platform is expanding the number of ways you can shop on the platform, meaning that you won’t just be able to tap to buy products on your feed, but also in Stories and on Explore, where there will be a dedicated shopping channel from brands you follow and brands you might like.
With such massive potential, especially when these additional ways of selling your products are rolled out, Instagram is clearly an extremely attractive platform for fashion businesses.
Don’t be focused on the number of followers you have
While it is great to have plenty of followers, it is better to have fewer followers who are actually engaged and invested in your brand, particularly if you actually want to sell them stuff.
“I really do subscribe to the belief that it is not about the follower count,” she says. “It’s great if you happened to be best friends with Cara Delevingne and she tags you in a post, but if you are creating great content and you are posting frequently and are talking with your followers and are creating a sense of community, I really believe that everything else will follow.
“Brands get very obsessed with the amount of followers they have, but this does not directly correlate to the number of sales. You could have a few hundred followers and people are shopping and buying. I would really focus on trying to get authentic connections with your community rather than anything else.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR UK.