Instagram and Empowerment: Social Media Marketing in the Digital Age


Ever since Instagram, Twitter, and social media

have staked their claims in our daily lives, brands have been eager to take part in the action. Social media has become a cornerstone of our interactions with brands, from beautiful, moodboard-style curation of products on Instagram to brands’ good-natured Twitter roasts of celebrities and customers. Yet, even given what seems like an established practice, a handful of companies are redefining how social media and customer interaction is done, and reaping amazing benefits in the process. A new wave of female-focused companies like Glossier, the Wing, and Refinery29 are creating a new paradigm of brand-customer interaction that focuses on creating a community and bringing their customers closer than ever, and they are receiving huge media attention and sales to show for it.

A prime example of a trailblazer in social media interaction is Glossier, the makeup and skincare startup that has dominated media buzz and attention for the last two years. Glossier boasts more than $85 million in funding to date, and from 2016 to 2017 tripled its total revenue. Much of the brand’s success comes from its ability to successfully leverage and engage its customer community: Glossier does everything from actively repost followers’ pictures, answer individual questions about products, and leave personal replies to comments. While Glossier is first and foremost a cosmetics brand with its own commercial interests at heart, this company makes an effort to make their community feel like much more than a means of product advertising.

Glossier differentiates itself from other companies’ digital media approaches by successfully building and leveraging not only a brand, but a lifestyle. This lifestyle is one  that’s inclusive, multi-faceted, and empowering. These components are also found in the strategies of several other female-focused spaces, like the co-working startup “The Wing,” or the women-centered media company “Refinery29.”  Accessibility and inclusivity in these communities is evident through the easy means of entry and participation - all it takes is an Instagram follow to see content, a comment to engage, or a product purchase to be truly bought in. These brands also engage frequently with their customers and commonly repost their content. Customer-shot pictures that match Glossier’s aesthetic are sprinkled across the brand’s Instagram page, and the company also makes a point to repost the funniest tweets about Glossier products from its customers. Similarly, the Wing’s “Member Moment” story on Instagram celebrates and highlights the accomplishments of their customers with their audience of 250k+ followers.

Content, while inevitably brand-focused, also touches on relevant social and political issues, which helps these brands surpass their primary commercial focus. Some prominent examples are the Wing’s campaigns to increase midterm voting (“Midterms on Our Terms”) and Glossier’s advocacy for women in leadership position by highlighting present-day leaders. Despite the lack of clear connection between beauty products and ballots, a clear characteristic of these companies is that they refuse to choose between the fun, lighthearted nature of their products and the weighty and more serious relevance of social and political issues.

Messages about empowerment, the importance of self-care, and the endorsement of feminist issues are frequent.

These companies also embrace a tone of empowerment in communicating  with their customers. One of the most distinctive traits of their respective social media presences is the sincere, supportive tone of their communication. Messages about empowerment, the importance of self-care, and the endorsement of  feminist issues are frequent, and often communicated through memes and pop culture references. This creates a stance that is undoubtedly sincere but also doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a result, brands don’t alienate more moderate customers, but also announce themselves as allies and supporters for those who believe these issues are key. While these brands’ social stances do skew significantly liberal, the vast majority of their customer bases match this profile, and brands’ messages of empowerment and feminism draw this majority even closer together.

The effectiveness of these communities is more than clear: Glossier is well known as a leader in social media engagement, and everything from more than 275 thousand #glossier Instagram posts to its three-fold increase in revenue speaks to the benefits of this engagement. The Wing has benefitted similarly. In the past year, this brand has been the subject of prominent features in Vogue, the New York Times, and TechCrunch, and is now in the midst of a global expansion to cities around the world like San Francisco, Paris, and London. A benefit of building strong communities is the (aptly-named) “network effect”:  as more people hear of and become involved with a brand, the brand’s outreach and impact becomes increasingly larger, leading to a growing cycle of more media attention, customers, and sales.

Brands have become providers of spaces for women to connect with each other and talk about anything from makeup to complex social issues.

Beyond its commercial benefits, this new paradigm of brand-focused communities is also interesting for several other reasons. One point of interest is that brands have become providers of spaces for women to connect with each other and talk about anything from makeup to complex social issues. Leveraging the easy discussion platform that exists in social media comments and the hundreds of thousands of followers they have access to has enabled brands to connect similarly interested people from around the world. Because followers of the brand are self-selective in their interests and attitudes, these communities and social platforms can be safer and more enjoyable spaces to engage in than many other available options.

This new approach to customer interaction also means that brands are integrated into our lives at a level closer than ever before. Not only is this true in terms of the frequency of brand-related content we see through social media, but also in terms of the ever-increasing aspects of our lives that brands are involved in: brands have entered the conversation and content we consume with regards to politics, social issues, feminism, finance, and so much more, reaching far beyond just makeup or beauty. And, with brands who use customer representatives to promote their products - of which Glossier is also one - this is even more true. By employing our friends, peers, and colleagues to serve as advocates for their products, brands enjoy an unparalleled point of access into our personal lives.

Glossier’s success and the role of its customer community have caused many to take notice, and it will be interesting to see how other companies react and attempt to reap similar benefits across different industries. As the trend becomes less novel and more saturated, companies will likely have to adapt and modify their strategies. And, with growing concerns about excess social media usage, it remains to be seen if this trend will fizzle out, or if brands will find a way to remain engaged with their users and keep their communities strong. Either way, at least for the immediate future, it’s clear that the dream-worthy lifestyle, community, and revenue numbers of these brands are here to stay.