Sarah Jessica Parker and Glossier CEO Emily Weiss discuss building a business on Instagram

Credit: AWNY2017/REX/Shutterstock

Sarah Jessica Parker and Glossier founder Emily Weiss graced the stage of Advertising Week New York to share some insights around how they’ve used Instagram to build their respective businesses.

During the panel, Weiss discussed how Instagram has been integral to the growth of Glossier, the beauty brand she founded three years ago after starting her popular blog Into the Gloss. Glossier currently has nearly 800,000 followers on Instagram, 40% of whom she said live outside of the US despite the fact that the online brand only ships in the US and Canada. While the company has international expansion plans underway (next month, it will begin shipping in the UK, for instance), Weiss said that Instagram has helped Glossier build brand awareness and brand love in markets where it doesn't have an actual presence quite yet.

“At Glossier, the way we think about that is that all of our followers are already customers, they just haven’t purchased yet,” she said of the brand’s international fans. “It’s incredible that if you have an account on Instagram, you are already global. You are available to the world.”

Weiss went on the explain that she considers Glossier to be a “living, breathing company” in the sense that it’s constantly looking to hear feedback and start conversations with customers on platforms like Instagram. She said that the brand’s Milky Jelly Cleanser face wash, which is its best-selling product, was born out of an Instagram post that asked followers questions like ‘What’s your dream face wash?’ and ‘Who would play it in a movie?’ When answers to the latter question included actresses like Julianne Moore and Emma Stone, Glossier decided to cast a redhead in the campaign for Milky Jelly Cleanser, which was created after the brand’s chemist was briefed on what its customers wanted and didn’t want in the face wash.

Aside from giving Glossier a chance to connect with and talk to fans from all over the world, Weiss said that Instagram has also helped drive some of its brick-and-mortar sales. While Glossier sells most of its products online, the brand has a sole shop in New York that Weiss said is on the “sixth floor of a rickety building in Chinatown.” She said up to 1,000 people a day visit the company’s store in New York, many of which are able to find it due to Instagram’s geotag feature.

“The ability of Instagram to affect things like ground floor retail is pretty cool,” she said.

Parker added that Instagram has been a game-changer for her since it allows her to connect with the “gang of 10 million women” who’ve been following her since her Sex and the City days.

“I never imagined that I would get to have conversations with people who I’ve had a relationship with the past 20 years,” she said.

While Parker has two separate Instagram accounts for her business ventures – one for her fragrance and another for her fashion label – she said she prefers to keep her personal account mostly promotion-free as to not “exploit the relationship” with her fans.

“There are distinctions for me, primarily because I feel sort of honor-bound to the people that follow me,” she said. “I feel better talking about business on our business pages, frankly.”

Parker also said that her companies do the bulk of their customer service on Instagram, largely because that’s where their customers prefer to interact. With today’s customers being more informed and educated on what they’re buying more than ever before, Parker said she thinks it’s important for brands to be open to scrutinization and customer input since that is what will ultimately help propel their business forward.

Weiss echoed this sentiment, stating that “there’s never been a time when the saying ‘the customer is right’ has been more true than today."

“We have to meet her where she wants to be met,” she said. “I think the onus is on us as a brand to deliver the best experience possible for her.”

The two were joined onstage by Instagram’s chief operating officer Marne Levine, who used the opportunity to share some growth stats about the Facebook-owned platform and discuss the nascent success of the Stories ad format that was made available to brands earlier this year. Instagram now boasts 800 million monthly active users, up from 700 million in April, and has two million advertisers on its platform, up from one million in March.

Levine said that while Instagram Stories for advertisers is still in its “early days,” brands using the format have already seen “really great things.” The ads, which appear in vertical video format in between user Stories, have been used by brands including Beats by Dre and Michael Kors.

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