Aimee Song, Chiara Ferragni, Arielle Charnas and Camila Coelho.


Insta-fashion has a lot of meanings these days.

Thanks to the proliferation of Snapchat’s ephemeral images and videos, Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, and most recently, live video on Instagram Stories, blogger and brand content is entering its next phase.

Fashion and beauty influencers especially are eschewing the costly, highly produced videos that have dominated their digital channels over the past several years — which often rivaled feature films in their production value — in favor of more off-the-cuff footage.

Instagram introduced its take on photos and videos that disappear within 24 hours of posting with Stories in August, and took it a step further with the global rollout of live video in November. Whereas Snapchat Stories, which launched in October 2013, aren’t necessarily “live” per se, bloggers interviewed for this story credited Snapchat as the conduit that began to shift the way they look at communicating with their fan bases.

Now, three years after the launch of Snapchat Stories and four months into Instagram’s Live Stories feature, a change is reverberating industrywide — from influencers to the brands that pony up six, and sometimes seven-figure sums, to work with them.

Reigning queen of the influencer set Chiara Ferragni did her first Instagram Live video in the days leading up to New York Fashion Week from her home in Beverly Hills. She revealed to WWD that a total of 174,000 viewers tuned in live to watch the video, which was about 10 minutes long, with an average of about 20,000 people watching live at any given time.

“I was like, is this a good result or not? I texted Eva [Chen],” Ferragni said with a laugh. “I see other people’s lives, but for seven to eight million followers — 20,000 people live in that minute. How is it? I didn’t have anyone else to compare it to but apparently it’s pretty good.”

Ferragni was using Snapchat heavily before — where on average, her stories would get 260,000 views — but has since moved almost all of her social media video to Instagram (she still posts on Snapchat). She maintained that when she started posting Instagram Stories they garnered an average of one million views in a 24-hour period. Now, her stories average two million views in a 24-hour period.

Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Instagram, said — over Instagram direct message no less — that “selfie-style videos” are resonating with users, while highly produced content not so much.

In a follow-up phone interview during New York Fashion Week, Chen detailed Instagram’s evolution from its inception in October 2010 to today: the platform started as a supercasual “visual diary” for users’ “lumpy oatmeal breakfasts” that soon gave way to an outpouring of influencers creating images on their DSLR cameras that no one had ever seen elsewhere.

This created the age of the “perfect Instagram image” that’s been rampant on users’ feeds for the past several years. The example Chen gave — a cappuccino with foam art placed beside a pair of Dior sunglasses on a marble countertop — is among the worst offenders, she said. Others: avocado toast and pastel-colored macarons (preferably from Ladurée, and extra points if shot at an actual Ladurée shop).

This quickly turned Instagram from a place where people shared the minutiae of daily life with friends and family into somewhere they had to broadcast perfection — real or perceived — through photos filtered to oblivion.

“After a certain point, what we’re seeing now is a return to authenticity. People still post food and dogs, but it’s with more content and personality. It’s less about being perfect and more about being real because followers are longing for a point of view, not just beautiful images because there is a preponderance of them,” Chen said.

She said followers want to see their favorite influencers’ personalities, a sense of humor and get a sense of their more day-to-day lives. No cappuccino art necessary.

Influencers agree.

Camila Coelho and Aimee Song of Song of Style have started to do live stories — and it’s resonating with their followers.

“People have been asking for lives a lot. It’s that they always have questions. They want to know certain things, and with Live you can pretty much answer a lot of things,” 29-year-old Coelho said. “They want to see you talking to them, expressing yourself. That’s why Snapchat, and now Instagram Stories [are so important right now]. It’s real life and how you’re living now in that moment.”

Brazilian-based Coelho has 5.7 million followers and gets about 65,000 views when she does a live story.

Song did a live video on Instagram in February about choosing paint colors that was between four and five minutes long and had a peak of 26,055 views.

Instagram is her platform of her choice, she explained, because on Snapchat “you don’t know who’s watching” and there’s no option for viewers to comment right on the video. But because Instagram has a live commenting section, Song was able to narrow her selection of paint down to five colors and ask her followers which she should choose and see their replies in real time. In another video that Song did a few days before New York Fashion Week, she did outfit changes and asked viewers which look she should wear.

Although she’ll continue to create more produced video content that can live permanently on YouTube, Instagram or her blog, she prefers live stories because “you can really talk to your followers….I treat it like my best friend or sister. I feel like I get closer to my friends.”

Live video is also changing the way bloggers are allotting their content-creation budgets, including Arielle Charnas of Something Navy.

“We’ve come to realize that people follow Arielle because she is more relatable and her pictures aren’t crazy filtered and retouched….The same goes for live. It’s real-time, and there is no filter or editing and it’s on the fly,” said Jane Kim, business manager at Something Navy.

She noted that when Charnas posts a “professional” photo from her blog it does less than half as well as a photo taken on the street on a whim.

“This has significantly shifted in the past year because we were looking to ramp up our YouTube with tutorials and these high-production videos, but now we’re seeing that it’s not even worth it. It almost turns off viewers because they want more of the raw, real video footage,” Kim continued.

Charnas, who has 994,000 followers on Instagram, noticed that “live” was a big opportunity when she tested out Facebook Live. Videos in which she talked about her closet, relationships and even did a Q&A with a dermatologist had engagement that was “through the roof.”

Currently, Charnas’ average views on Instagram Live videos average between 55,000 and 60,000 with peak live viewers hovering at around 6,000 — usually during “The Bachelor.” Every Monday for the duration of the most recent season of “The Bachelor,” she did live commentary during commercial breaks, with a live video during the finale garnering 10,000 peak viewers.

But it’s not just bloggers who are “getting real” on social media. Trying to attain this level of authenticity online — one that’s best captured in a live format — is something brands are chasing as well.

Jen Atkin, hairstylist to the Kardashians and founder of haircare line Ouai, uses live video to help make packaging decisions and conceptualize new products. Atkin, who has 1.9 million followers on Instagram, launched Ouai on social media a year ago and calls it the first “socially savvy” hair-care line.

TRESemmé is working to implement live elements into its digital strategy too, which extends to the way it partners with bloggers and YouTube stars.

Mark Lodwick, global brand director at TRESemmé, said that the company took a new approach to working with influencers this past New York Fashion Week — both in terms of the type of content and where it lives.

Content yields higher engagement when it comes from an influencer, he explained, and giving the group free reign allows for the creation of more authentic photos and videos.

Marianna Hewitt, Casey Holmes, Paola Alberdi and Amy Lee of Vagabond Youth were commissioned to create branded content throughout the week that was solely broadcast on their own social platforms, inclusive of live video. This is a departure from fashion weeks past — where TRESemmé professionally-produced content with bloggers for its own social channels (with cross promotion from the influencers involved too).

It was the first time the brand tested live video, and Lodwick maintained that of all the influencer touch points during the fashion-week activation, live videos had the highest engagement levels. Live video from Holmes, Alberdi, Hewitt and Lee saw average views of 70,000, 27,500, 40,000 and 8,000, respectively.

“Live video will play a larger role in our influencer-led conversations, but in the short term I don’t expect it to completely replace more traditional influencer platforms like produced content and still imagery,” Lodwick said. “We intend to evolve our approach with the shifting consumer behavior.”

Editor’s Note: Digital Download is a recurring feature looking at innovative strategies, people and technology trends in the online world.

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