8 Things We Learned From Our Community in Conversation Panel

[This post was originally published on the Dash Hudson blog.]

Didn’t make it to our Community in Conversation event in Los Angeles? Don’t worry, we took notes for you.

Remember the event we hosted with Conde Nast last fall where we discussed Instagram strategy at every stage of a business’ existence, from startup to established?

We had so much fun (and by fun, we mean learned) that we decided to pack our bags and spread the love to the West Coast. To cater to the Lalaland-scape, we partnered with our lovely customers, Clique Media Group and Revolve, and shifted the focus of our discussions from Instagram strategy to how vital it is for businesses to build a strong community to reach the peaks of success.

Instagram now finds itself at the core of every thriving company’s marketing strategy. The problem is that more often than not, these accounts are lacking tremendously when it comes to audience interactions. We rounded up three amazing panelists, all spread across different disciplines of IG, to impart their wisdom on how they approach community-building and follower engagement strategies.

It was fun, interesting, and best of all, extremely insightful. We hope our attendees left with a better understanding of why and how a strong community will propel their Instagram efforts. For those who weren’t there, fret not! We wouldn’t keep all this priceless knowledge to ourselves — below are the 8 big takeaways from the discussions between our mighty social specialists.

Who were they?
MICHELLE PLANTAN, executive director of creative strategy at CMG
ANNA TRAN, brand director at REVOLVE
MARIANNA HEWITT, lifestyle influencer

Lest not we forget the moderator extraordinaire:
THOMAS RANKIN, co-founder and CEO at Dash Hudson

Three Instagram rockstars.

Here we go!

1. Listen to your community.

As an Instagram marketer, you want to be able to be there for your followers because your business revolves around them. For that reason, give them what they’re specifically interested in getting from you, be there to answer questions, and engage with those who are talking about you. To strengthen a community, you really have to engage with its members.

Michelle Plantan mentioned that the Who What Wear Collection account is composed almost exclusively of user-generated content. To make that a success and even possible, you have to lay the groundwork to compel your community to want to have that dialogue with your brand. It’s a big deal when you start getting a lot of tags from your fans.

If you want your content to resonate with your community, all you have to do is ask what they want to see. “I always ask them if they have any requests,” says Marianna of her followers, “because at the end of the day, I want to create the content that they want to see.” She continues: “some of my best performing videos or Instagram posts are things that people asked me to do that I never would have thought of.”

Interactions and meaningful connections are worth their weight in gold. Especially in this transient day and age.

2. Even if you’re a retailer, don’t sound sales-y.

At the end of the day, your ultimate goal as a brand might be to move merch, but blatantly sounding like you’re pushing product on your followers can be the kiss of death. Millennial audiences are really easily turned off by overly obvious marketing, so approach all the content you create from a lifestyle perspective. You should not flagrantly be urging your audience to buy, but rather suggesting how your products could fit within their lives.

3. Be current and relevant with your content.

Instagram users, especially those who follow brands, are for the most part members of the millennial generation. That means that they’re expecting to see content about the things that they themselves find relevant — current events, new cool beats, cultural references, festival season chatter, the list goes on.

Being able to speak your community’s language is instrumental in reaching success. Put plainly by Insta brand master Anna Tran: “I don’t want to be talking to you, I want to be talking with you.” Capish?

Be relatable as well as aspirational. It can be done, promise.

Michelle Plantan from CMG knows her stuff.

4. Cultivate your existing relationships.

It’s one thing to engage in influencer marketing, but it’s another to build a whole network of tastemakers that you grow genuine ongoing connections with. Influencers are put on pedestals by their followers because they’ve been able to earn their trust. There’s a huge difference between an Instagrammer doing a one-time deal with a brand that seems a little off-topic, and them consistently mentioning a brand they have a legitimate friendship with. Audiences can see right through the BS.

That also ties into how crucial it is to remain on-brand. If you want your influencers to be able to create content that feels authentic, being selective of who you choose is imperative. Authenticity, organic alliances, and a simple thing known as the human touch can go a really long way.

5. Don’t act too big for your britches.

Even if you are a huge account and get a gajillion comments per post, it should be a part of your job to answer questions if your followers are asking any. That’s how you foster a community, connect with its members, become trustworthy, and give your audience a reason to become loyal.

Marianna is well aware that her followers think of her as a friend, so that’s how she approaches her business.

6. Create moments.

“If it doesn’t get posted on Instagram, it didn’t happen.” Words of wisdom by Anna (get more of her words in our video interview!). And for users to deem a photo worthy of going up on their gallery means that it has to be notable enough. Why? because what gets people excited is a beautiful image of a scene they aspire to be a part of.

The proof is in the pudding: there are entire businesses that have gone viral thanks to their clever Instagrammable decor. The best way to get everyone to post about a new brick and mortar location is to make it Insta-bait. Marianna brings up a new coffee shop in LA where “everyone was posting about it because of this wall or this neon sign outside.”

She proceeds to list neon signs, marble and cool walls to guarantee a flood of Instagram posts, which by default translates to exposure. And simply because “that’s what people like and what people want to share,” she continues. And she should know, she’s the pro. If a business is hoping to encourage more content creation, they should “make it really easy for [people] and build an environment where they can just go snap a photo,” says Michelle Plantan. That’s moment creation.

In fact, that’s also precisely why REVOLVE is currently in the midst of remodeling their members-only Social Club. They want their girls to be able to create new, unseen Instagram moments. Because what’s worse than no moment at all? Becoming stale. As our CEO eloquently puts it, “no one’s gonna take a shot of the same bathroom twice.” Point taken, Thomas.

During events, it’s also the brand’s job to make situations Insta-worthy. If you’re throwing an event, make the decorations irresistible, include super fun props that incite people to want to capture them, make sure the lighting is right (we know how important that is for a good shot), come up with a cute hashtag… There are so many details that can be thought of to create beautiful Instagram moments.

Anna is the queen of influencer relationships. When she talks, we all listen.

7. Instagram Stories is a great way to complement your gallery.

We’ve brought you tactics on how to use Instagram Stories as well as how to measure their performance, but to put it the way Marianna Hewitt did on the panel, it’s also an awesome functionality to present the backstory of your content. It’s an excellent vehicle for bringing your followers along with you to places that wouldn’t have necessarily been photographed, in a more off-the-cuff capacity.

Even if Stories are a more raw form of content creation, underestimating the amount of work that goes into them would be a huge mistake. A seemingly spontaneous clip actually requires a ton of planning, especially for businesses trying to execute on strategy. As Michelle put it, “it truly takes a village.” A ton of communication is required between all the players that touch the brand in some way. So don’t feel bad if you’re struggling, but do find a way to make it work, because the function is becoming increasingly ubiquitous.

Insta Stories also provide another platform to interact with your community by enabling a deeper communication conduit. Anna cites going into their branded hashtag, #RevolveMe, to pick out her favorite pieces of UGC to share on their Stories, where she’ll tag the users, which makes them feel super special. In turn, that prompts REVOLVE’s fans to create more content around the brand in hopes of being featured.

8. Think Instagram first (duh).

Instagram is so ingrained in people’s habits that it’s often the first visual customer touchpoint for brands. That translates to huge retail opportunities because it makes the ‘Gram both a channel for discovery, as well as a way to connect with and hook potential customers. It’s a great tool for multi platform cross-promotions to build awareness for other places where your brand lives. Using Insta as a means to drive followers to anywhere you want to direct them to go is a priceless opportunity.

Some brands have even turned their Instagram accounts into completely additional revenue streams. The organic-feeling type of content that Instagram is known for, as opposed to professionally produced lookbooks and product shots, has begun seeping into e-commerce operations. Repeat after us: Instagram first.

After the party, it’s the after party. We wouldn’t invite people over and not give them food and drink. We don’t roll like that. Once the knowledge had been imparted and the learnings were made, we headed to Clique Media Group’s expansive outdoor terrace overlooking the Hollywood Hills to toast to an event to remember. Refreshments came courtesy of our favs, Winc wine (check out our interview with Winc’s social media manager).

But unfortunately, vino isn’t something we can share with you after the fact… #sorrynotsorry

Want to join the DH family? Get in touch today.

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