How to maximise a fashion brand’s presence on Instagram

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Statista posted earlier this year the list of fashion brands ranked by Instagram followers. Unsurprisingly the list only consists of heavy hitters: a mix of high street retailers, luxury and sportswear brands. Nike scored the top post and in the mix there’s also Victoria’s Secret, Chanel, H&M, Zara, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci and Adidas.

So far, so predictable. None of the brands on the list are up-and-coming or independent labels. The conglomerates that make the list started with an advantage point: they were already household names and had a following in real life that naturally transferred to this platform.

However, social media changed the fashion landscape and even well-known brands have to work hard to stay relevant and engaging. Success was once measured by ad space in the right titles, now the Holy Grail is attention and engagement from consumers that spend more time on their phones than reading magazines. Brands can measure their relevance by the amount of followers, likes, shares, comments and organic brand mentions (the #). They can then translate this interest into a direct audience which is very practical for marketing strategies.

Fashion is one of the most popular verticals on Instagram and the love is reciprocated. Fashion brands have embraced this platform over others for two reasons. Firstly, the Millennials are all here. They migrated from Facebook, leaving the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers behind. Secondly, Instagram mixes commerce and art in such a seamless way that hasn’t been seen since Warhol’s Factory in the 70s and 80s.

With this platform brands can curate their ‘vision’ and ‘journey’ — two fashion terms that mean nothing and every fashion folk (ab)uses — in a very impactful way. Why say it with banners and magazine ads, if it can be said with hundreds of thousands of images and videos. Every day. For free. As Eva Chen, Instagram’s head of fashion partnerships, puts it: “A picture is worth a thousand words, and now a picture can speak to millions of people”.

Instagram has become an indispensable tool for fashion brands to craft successful marketing strategies. However, to be effective, this platform needs to be used the right way. Here are some pointers for a stronger online presence:

It sounds like a no-brainer but it is actually harder than most think. The majority of fashion labels’ accounts are clearly done by marketing teams and that’s very noticeable. They are heavily manicured and the content is always the same: a mix of product shots, celebrity and influencer endorsements, fashion shows and mood board images.

What followers want to see is behind-the-scenes content from their favorite brands, things they wouldn’t normally be able to see.

The best accounts are the ones that you get the feeling that there is a real person behind them. No one does this better than Simon Porte, designer at Jacquemus. Porte uses Instagram in a different way. His followers get the sense of who the man behind the brand is, what are his inspirations and what is his brand identity. Every horizontal column features a triptych of images that are linked together. This can be anything from a selfie, holidays, editorials and movie stills. His account is everything that his brand is: playful, visually stunning, sincere, naïve, idealist yet meticulously thought through.

Strong identity
If a reader picks up a magazine and hides the title, he or she should be able to find out from the tone of voice, the images, the design, etc., which magazine they are flicking through. Instagram should work the same way. Accounts must have a strong visual identity and a strong point of view. Consistency is key. 
Nike does this exceptionally well. No wonder that excluding celebrities, they have the second most followers after National Geographic and also the fifth most used hashtag (#nike). Nike wants to sell products like all brands do but they are also selling aspirations. The brand posts a lot of pictures that are visually stunning, which is what Instagram users want to see. Their visuals are so good that if you were to take away the Nike products, the images would still capture the spirit of the brand and would be good enough to share.

There’s this generalized idea that the measure of success of an Instagram is the number of followers. Followers are very important but what’s the point of having thousands of them if there’s very little to no engagement? Passion and excitement towards a brand is what should matter the most. Brands should aim to create content that gets people to react: commenting, tagging their friends, sharing and liking.

This is where most fashion houses, if not all, fail. Digital is not a monologue. Most labels churn out all these posts but don’t engage in conversation. They don’t comment on their own feeds or on followers’ feeds, repost images, ask questions or answer back. Fashion brands need to understand that a dialogue builds excitement and, above all, helps forge meaningful relationships and brand advocacy. The Instagram audience wants to feel that they are part of something.

Daniel Wellington, the watch maker brand, encourages their followers to tag their photos with #DanielWellington and every day they select the #DWPickoftheDay. Their account is mostly pictures of their watches taken by their clients. Most people love the opportunity to be shared by a brand with millions of followers. It also provides Daniel Wellington with plenty of marketing collateral. The brand is therefore very popular and they have over 3million followers, more than Vetements and Céline combined. Their posts have on average 60,000+ likes and 100+ comments, more than Valentino, Calvin Klein, Chloé, Céline, Vetements or Balenciaga.

Influencer marketing is now a familiar practice, every fashion label with a budget does it. Now, to be innovative, brands collaborate with Instagram artists in the production of inspiring native content that resonates with followers. This is closer to an artist residency where inspiration and access matters as much as reach.

Gucci’s social media campaign #GucciGram is a great example. The fashion house invited established and emerging international painters, photographers, collagists and multimedia artists to repurpose some of the brand’s new prints.

Fashion and beauty brands rank first among Instagram adoption and for the foreseeable future this platform will be their social media priority. What brands mustn’t forget is that to tell a story they need an audience and this audience should always be at the heart of their message.