11 tips that every (aspiring) fashion influencer needs to optimize their Instagram presence

“Pretty doesn’t work on Instagram anymore.”

Virginia Nam would know. She helps run fashion partnerships at Instagram, and over her decade-long career, which included stints at Teen Vogue and Lucky Magazine, she’s seen the fashion world transform: where it was once a small circle ruled by a select few, today it is largely seen as being more democratic, thanks in large part to Instagram. As fashion evolves, so does the wildly popular photo-sharing app. Recently, Nam shared that the stereotypical, heavily curated photos aren’t what’s going viral — it’s the wild, jumbly, off-the-cuff, on-the-scene, access-at-all-costs clips, the ones that take you inside worlds you thought were just for the elite.

These videos are helping to democratize Instagram. For a prime example, look at Balmain’s most recent runway show. During 2017 spring fashion week, the brand shot a front-row Instagram Live. Immediately after the lights came up, the meticulous precision of the runway was upended as the Balmain press team began squeezing through the crowd to get backstage, and even captured creative director Olivier Rousteing as he greeted people upon arrival; the look on his face both exhausted and accomplished.

This was a type of virtual unedited backstage access previously unseen in the fashion world, a slight deviation from the runway as we know it, one whose ramifications could reshape fashion weeks around the world. After all, more than 200 million people are connected to fashion accounts on Instagram. That’s nearly a third of IG’s global community. It only makes sense that the future of the app would center on a more inclusive, immersive experience — for the regular users, not just the brands.

“In recent seasons we’ve seen a shift in the way a lot of brands and designers are using Instagram,” head of fashion partnerships Eva Chen said at a recent Fashion on Instagram press event held at Instagram headquarters. “You may remember a time when Instagram was a place for just your best, most beautiful photos. You might hire a photographer and you might edit to death. That’s not what Instagram is like anymore. In recent seasons, we’ve seen designers include the highlights but also shift to showcasing all the moments in between.”

For fashion influencers to win at fashion month — which begins in September and encompasses New York Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week — both Nam and Chen suggest a three-pronged approach: stories, live and feed. (The pair suggest looking to Tommy Hilfiger as a brand that has mastered this.)

Here’s 11 tips that (aspiring) fashionistas/fashionistos should use to master Instagram in the new era:

1. Use Instagram as a source of discovery.

Go in to see who your favorite accounts follow, see who they follow, who they follow. Go down that Instagram wormhole. You don’t know what creative you might find; what collaboration opportunities you might have.

2. Don’t over-curate and make your Instagram too perfect.

With stories, you want to show the in-between. “If you have a terrible cold and literally barely feel like you can function, put that on your story,” Chen suggested. “When Instagram first started, it was really casual. And then came the advent of professional content producers who were putting photos on Instagram that had never been seen on social media before. We all know the shot: avocado toast, with a sprinkle of paprika, a little bit of a cappuccino art situation and then there’s a pair of Fendi sunglasses all shot on a white carrara marble top countertop. Then that became the norm, and as a result, Instagram become saturated with those sorts of images. And now we are seeing a swing back to more unedited, more raw images. And the best way to do that is...

3. Use stories.

“Stories allow brands and content creators to connect on a deeper, less curated, level with their audiences and allow you to show off the access that you have as an influencer,” Nam said. Not only that, they help chronologize an event without clogging up users feeds.

4. Use Instagram Live.

You don’t have to fill every second with audio and with the narrative. It’s okay if there are silences; it’s okay if someone bumps your elbow and the camera shakes a little bit. “I actually think that contributes to the overall rawness and authentic feeling of the live,” Chen said.

Pro tip: It does take a little bit of time for peak viewership to ramp up. “If you have a certain key moment, I would go live any time 10 to 15 minutes before that moment so that you maximize that moment,” Nam said.

5. Respond to your live followers.

“That might feel a little scary, but if you just acknowledge your fans, call out their handles and answer their questions, they will feel so special,” Nam said.

Chen recommended going selfie-style, holding your phone out and talking into the camera saying something like, “Hey guys, I’m at the Prabal show waiting for it to start. Oh my God, there’s Linda Palermo blah blah blah. Do you guys have any questions about fashion week?” It might take a little while, Chen cautioned, but she said that if you invite them to ask the questions, the questions will pour in.

When in doubt, she said: Shout out countries. “Just seeing something as seemingly basic as that, people will feel heard and acknowledged.”

6. Pin your live comment.

If you are at a show, type in a comment that says where you are. You can do this by tapping your own comment in live and clicking ‘pin comment.’ “That way you won’t get your followers asking ‘Where is this? What am I seeing?’” Chen said. “This way you are giving the viewer the necessary context.”

7. Show viewers what they can’t see on a livestream of the runway.

“Arrivals are really great to capture,” Chen said. “Who are you sitting next to? Is there a really great goodie bag? What are people drinking? Show the really great shoes that everyone is wearing. Show more color because it will give people more context and it won’t just be what people are expecting.”

8. Moderate your comments in advance.

Users may say something you might not want to see in the comment section — you know this. Thankfully, you can block this in content moderation under settings. “We know a lot of models who have blocked the words ‘anorexic,’ ‘skinny’ or ‘diet’ so it won’t show up, just to make Instagram a safer place for everyone,” Chen said.

9. Use the carousel.

Launched last fashion month, the carousel allows a single feed post to feature up to 10 pictures and videos. “If you’re at a certain show, you no longer have to choose between that really great sharp photo that you finally took on the runway versus the amazing slow-mo video that you got,” Nam said. “You can do both.”

10. If you can’t do original content, add color and context to the image.

“Instead of just saying Tommy Hilfiger, Hailey Baldwin, say ‘Backstage at Tommy Hilfiger, Hailey was having an amazing time, she was snacking on this and gave a high-five to this person,’ Chen suggested, adding: “Remember: You get to see more than 99.999999% of the world, share all those little details. If you think it might be something you would tell your best friend over avocado toast with paprika sprinkled on it on the weekend, those kind of observations are what you should share on your IG as well.”

11. Hashtag your stories.

The fashion world has a particular fraught relationship with hashtags. “One of the top questions I get is, ‘Should I be using hashtags,’ and it’s usually asked with a curled lip and a faint hint of disdain in the voice — not even faint hint,” Chen said. “Hashtags are a great opportunity for growth. I would not neglect the hashtag; give the hashtag a chance, especially in stories. You want to be in explore, 100 million people are in explore every day, so you want that increased visibility.”