Inside the world of Instagram marketing with a Williamsburg street style expert

Advertising on Instagram is a qualitatively different experience from other media. Helene Heath explains why that matters.

Helene Heath.

(Photo via Twitter)

With new technology comes new ways of reaching consumers, but also new rules for how to do that. Instagram currently ranks as the third largest social media platform, behind Facebook and Twitter and ahead of Snapchat. But for marketers, it might be number one.

Unlike Twitter, which, save for the occasional viral tweet or sometimes obnoxious fast casual restaurant chains, struggles to get consumers to willingly engage with brands, people love looking at brands’ Instagrams. WeWork has nearly 100,000 people who chose to follow them, and pics of their stylish offices and other striver-oriented photos show everything the glamorous, urban startup world wishes it were. Headspace, the app for meditation, has nearly 200,000 followers. It posts inspirational quotes and soothing videos, which routinely are watched by 20,000 or more people.

We talked to one of Williamsburg’s most popular street fashion and lifestyle Instagrammers, Helene Heath, to set us straight on how it all works. Heath is a social media expert and has been working for Dash Hudson, a Williamsburg and Halifax-based company that helps companies grow their brand on Instagram, for years.

“Instagram and all social media is like the first time in history, really, that companies have had direct access to consumers,” Heath explained. “Whether it’s like ad placement or TV ads, no, you can really talk to them you can get feedback. You have this real line of communication with consumers.”

Heath added that Instagram is a very good fit for today’s world. People, she said, are talking to each other and expressing themselves in pictures and videos more than ever before. Whether that’s a change brought about by new technology like Instagram and Snapchat, or whether those apps succeeded because people have always wanted to communicate in this way, who knows. But it does seem to be the way of things. (Entire B2B businesses have sprung up as a result, including Curalate, a Philly-founded visual analytics startup that works with big brands to track image-based marketing efforts.)

“Pictures evoke so much more feeling,” Heath said. “The way to actually get consumers to buy your product is to make an emotional connection with them. That’s what advertising has been like from the beginning.”

So if the tools for connecting with consumers are better, more naturally meet them where they’re at, that doesn’t mean they’re easier to use than traditional forms of advertising. No way. Instagram marketing is an art, and lots of companies are not yet employing artists to run them.

“People fail to really grasp that just posting whatever loses focus,” Heath said when asked what mistakes companies make when posting. “Your brand has a specific focus but then you’re posting a picture of a street sign cause you find it funny? You can’t just stray from that. Stay on that narrative and that voice. That’s why people follow you.”

If your company is doing Instagram well, then it might behoove it to grow its audience. One way of doing that is to hire influencers to post with your product. It’s good ol’ fashioned product placement updated for the digital world.

The big stars, like Kim Kardashian, would be great but there may be cheaper or more efficient ways to get your product in front of the right eyeballs. Heath suggests microinfluencers, semipros, the internet famous. Celebrities will likely have representation for dealing with their Instagram placements, but microinfluencers might not. Although there are some Instagram celebs — people who have made a whole career out of posting beautiful grams — many microinfluencers (Heath says this starts from a few thousand followers up to maybe 50,000) will publish just in exchange for some free product.

“Because this is such a new industry there are no parameters or set guidelines. The best price you can get is what the company is willing to pay and what the influencer is willing to accept,” Heath said.

She mentioned a couple accounts that have organically grown their followers to reach influencer level without any extra-Instagram platform. @aguynamedpatrick started out as just a guy, named Patrick. He’s since grown his following by posting beautiful images up to 450,000 followers.

“He earns a living from doing this,” Heath said. “He gets flown on vacations he gets gifted things. But for these people who do this for a living they approach it as a business. Maybe it started as their personal point of view, but it’s about creating that aspirational lifestyle that people wanna peak into.”

So who’s doing it well?

Who can we look to as an example?

The tremendously successful cosmetics company Glossier comes up. Glossier was founded by the 32-year-old Emily Weiss, notable for her appearance on The Hills. The company departs from other cosmetics in its singular focus on the brand and community. As Buzzfeed put it, it’s a “beauty startup that just happens to sell makeup.”

“Everything they post is always within that brand world, within that voice,” says Heath. “They interact with their community and engage with people. They’re really consistent. They leverage social media during product launches which boosts their buzz factor. They’re just really consistent and all about community and they understand the aesthetic part of community and those three things make them really successful.”

Another brand she mentions is Revolve, a California-based clothing retailer.

“They’re all about ‘young, fun, cool California girl.’ They use a lot of influencers, who have done really well for them,” Heath said. “People wanna be that girl that they represent.”

Companies: Instagram
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