The original influencer marketing playbook has expired. Gone are the days of mega-influencers and their expensive price tags; instead, it’s now all about meeting the customer where they are. That’s often achieved through micro-influencers and brand ambassadors, whose reach may be smaller based on numbers alone, but whose audience is typically more engaged and whose content is generally more authentic — a huge necessity in marketing today. 

Instagram remains a top platform for meeting current and potential customers, as Glossy unpacked in last week’s Instagram Strategies Forum, held May 25 and sponsored by Dash Hudson. In case you missed the event, here’s a recap that breaks down the effective tactics and valuable takeaways discussed by the featured speakers. Read on to discover what fashion and beauty brands are doing to engage with their customers, drive sales and remain relevant on the social media platform.

Instagram as ‘the new homepage’: A place to engage current customers and connect with new ones
In addition to being a key place to engage regularly with your current customer base, Instagram is a place to meet new customers through solid content and, hopefully, to drive sales.

Olivia Gentin, COO at Anine Bing, said that Instagram allows the brand to reach new sets of eyes. “[It] really provides them with an opportunity to discover the brand and hopefully bring them back to our website, where we can hopefully continue that conversation,” she said. 

In addition to the brand’s Instagram page, the company’s eponymous founder also fuels customer engagement through her personal Instagram account, where she invites customers into the design studio, takes them along on the design process journey and solicits feedback from them to make them feel like they are a part of the brand’s creative process.

And the brand doesn’t play favorites, when it comes to using Instagram’s features; it uses the main feed, Stories, Reels, IGTV and Lives, which all work together in harmony to form a cohesive message, said co-founder and chief strategy officer Annika Meller. But the feed, she said, serves as the brand’s billboard; it’s often customers’ first touchpoint with the brand, and it captures the essence of Anine Bing.

“It’s a full product catalog,” she said, noting that it’s a way to showcase the company’s weekly drops and keep customers coming back to see what’s new and exciting.

Its Stories are more playful, offering behind-the-scenes access and providing customers with authentic content to deepen their connection with the brand. “Stories play a very important part for us,” she said.

Like many other brands, Anine Bing is still learning Instagram Live and Reels, but is testing both through founder Anine Bing’s account. In doing so, it’s finding that the Anine Bing audience “loves to get these little snackable bites of her everyday life,” Meller said. Video content on Instagram is consistently top-performing content, she said.

Reels: ‘The topic that’s hot on every marketer’s mind’
Instagram is constantly innovating, and perhaps some of the most compelling content can be found on Reels, which was discussed at length during the event. Instagram’s beauty partnerships manager Kristie Dash called out that Reels are still a relatively new way to create and post content, and that there isn’t an exact formula for success. But there are some tips that brands should keep in mind, she said: Keep the content unique and experimental, but trend-driven. In other words, take the trends popping up on the platform that week and put your brand’s own spin on it. Also, make the content relatable and simple, as lo-fi content tends to work best to spark mimicry — which, in this case, is a good thing. Finally, loosen up when creating the content; don’t overthink it, just have fun with it. The portmanteau “edutainment” sums it up nicely, Dash said: Educate your audience, while entertaining them, too.

“Reels should be a huge priority for you right now,” Dash said. “It’s prime real estate for your brand to be discovered by new followers.”

Users don’t have to follow your brand’s Instagram page to find its Reels, so the feature provides an opportunity to get in front of a wider audience. “It’s a short-form window into your business,” Dash said. Whereas Instagram TV is a long-form video that tells a deeper story, Reels are unedited, 30-second videos that should be designed to be “thumb-stopping.” Brands should answer the question when creating Reels: “What will make you stop, watch and share with your friends?”

Dash recommends resharing Reels to your feed, as not sharing them with your current audience as well as a new audience “seems like a missed opportunity.” If you don’t want it on your feed, you can go into the post and remove it from profile view, and it will still be seen by those who follow your feed.

And, as of last week, Reels now has metrics that brands can use to gain insight on how the content is performing, including the number of times the videos are played, the number of accounts reached, and the number of users who liked, commented, shared and saved a video, Dash said.

Brand ambassadors — a strategy that works
Instead of paying a well-known influencer big bucks to market content, brands are increasingly offering products to brand ambassadors who have anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand followers. Their primary job is often not as an influencer, but rather, they just truly believe in and support the brand and will tell their circle about it. Sarah Flint, founder, creative director and executive chairman of her eponymous brand, has seen success with her brand ambassador program, which currently boasts over 500 women. Each is armed with an individual discount code and, after five new customers use it, they receive a pair of Sarah Flint shoes. The brand’s ambassador program now spans 48 states, and it’s expected to include 1,000 ambassadors by the end of the year.

These “superfans,” as Flint called them, “are selling a ton,” she said. It all comes down to authenticity and the fact that these women can attest to the quality and comfort of the brand’s shoes, Flint said. 

“It’s one thing for us to post an Instagram ad about this block sandal you can wear for eight hours and your feet won’t hurt,” she said. “It’s another for your best friend or your hairdresser to say, ‘This is a brand I’m wild about, and let me explain why.’”

Marketing vs. product
Despite brands’ marketing-heavy focus, product still matters. “Products have to be awe-inspiring,” said Natalie Mackey, CEO of The Glow Concept. Though marketing helps tell the world about a brand’s product, if it isn’t a quality product to begin with, the messaging on Instagram or elsewhere won’t go very far.

Overheard
“[Instagram] has been a complete driving force for us since day one.” –Shideh Kaviani, president and co-founder, Naked Wardrobe

Stat to know
Consumers want to interact with brands on Instagram. In fact, 81% of consumers discover new products on the platform and use it to make purchase decisions, said Glossy executive editor Priya Rao.