How has Instagram changed? What’s new and exciting about the popular social media app, and how can emerging fashion designers best make use of it? Director of fashion partnerships at Instagram and children’s book author Eva Chen spoke with Lebanese fashion entrepreneur and tastemaker Lana El Sahely last March on FTA’s Instagram channel. During the engaging FTA chat, Chen discussed the new Instagram Reels, while giving advice on how to maximize the effectiveness of your personal channel. 

Chen, who is now seven months pregnant and has spent much of the past 12 months on lockdown, like many during the pandemic, explained that Instagram had changed tremendously since it was first launched 10 years ago, and even since she joined the company six years go. Fashion brands, in particular, have realized the incredibly powerful impact of the social media app. “People use Instagram like they’re breathing,” she said.

One of the big changes that Chen outlined in her chat with El Sahely, is the increased emphasis and on real rather than stylized content. “There’s a move a away from too perfect,” said Chen, explaining that people seemed more attracted to natural photos, spur-of-the-moment clips and content that appears natural rather than staged.

This new attraction to the “real” aspects of thing extends to the fashion brands, which now seem more concerned with reaching the average consumer through platforms like Instagram rather than staging multimillion-dollar runway shows. “Instagram has been able to democratize fashion. We live with these brands, and we can see what’s happening with those designers,” said El Sahely, adding that big brands have realized that they no longer needed huge budgets to launch new collections.

But how can smaller brands also utilize Instagram to grow? Chen had the following advice for smaller designers seeking to develop their fashion brands through the social media app: “Use your hashtag. Do a special hashtag that describes what you do.” She also recommended using geolocation tags. Thirdly, Chen stressed the importance of always engaging with your audience. “Commenting and creating relationships is important,” she said. “And show [what’s happening] behind the scenes. Don’t use Instagram as e-commerce or portfolio – behind the scenes is just as important.” Chen also downplayed the importance of the static grid: “Don’t get obsessed with your grid. No one really looks at the grid besides you. I always tell people: ‘release the obsession with the grid.’ People are craving people interaction.”

El Sahely also touched upon the meteoric rise of Instagram in the fashion world, asking Chen to explain the reason behind this impressive boom. “The magic of fashion is in the visual richness,” said Chen, so as a visual platform, Instagram is particularly relevant for fashion and fashion-related industries.

“Release the obsession with the grid. People are craving people interaction.”

Eva Chen

Two of the newer Instagram features, IGTV and Instagram Reels, are particularly important in Chen’s view. “Will IGTV be our next YouTube?” El Sahely asked, prompting Chen to observe: “People use IGTV for news in some countries.” Instagram Reels, which launched in August 2020, highlights short, 15- or 30-second videos in portrait mode. “If you haven’t used it yet, try it,” said Chen, adding that live videos are particularly relevant on this and other Instagram features: “When you do a live, you move to the front of the line.”

The usefulness of Instagram features notwithstanding, Chen just wants app users to enjoy the time they spend on Instagram. “The most important thing for Instagram in general is to trust your instincts and have fun. Finding your voice is so important.”